Iran after the 2012 Parliamentary Elections
Bijan Khajehpour, managing partner of Atieh International based in Vienna, Austria, assessed the outcomes of Iran’s parliamentary elections that took place on March 2 and the repercussions for the country’s political, economic, and social future.
On March 8, the Middle East Program hosted Khajehpour for a meeting on “Iran after the 2012 Parliamentary Elections.” Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center, moderated the event.
Although the voting results are not yet final, Khajehpour indicated that the composition and balance of power within the coming weeks and months will heavily influence Iran’s political and economic developments in the near term. He noted that the most important factor is which individuals and political groups will wield power beyond the current president’s term. According to Khajehpour, the multiple factors involved in the elections – the pre-election vetting process, factional infighting, election campaigning, voter turnout, and the current election results – are all indicators of the complexity of the emerging balance of power within Iran’s political system.
As a symbol of the internal mood in Iran following the elections, Khajehpour showed a photograph of an Iranian man standing alone on the streets of Tehran looking confused and astonished by the number of campaign leaflets covering the street. Khajehpour attributed this state of political confusion to the number of candidate lists for this year’s parliamentary elections, which totaled 11. Ever since two conservative victories of Ahmadinejad in the presidential elections of 2005 and 2009, observers inside and outside Iran felt that this would lead to conservative unity among the ruling elite. Khajehpour argued that this process has done the opposite, as the 11 different and overlapping parliamentary candidate lists reveal the conservative in-fighting within the Iranian system. He further stated that there is now a larger divide between the conservative camps than there had been between the reformist and conservative camps in the past, describing the parliamentary elections as “an election between the two main conservative discourses in Iran.”
Khajehpour stated that the Iranian government took specific measures to ensure strong voter participation in the recent parliamentary elections. A large propaganda campaign focused on voter turnout and the use of nationalist themes in the weeks running up to the election. The government also timed various events to mobilize voters, such as a public court session of a recent banking embezzlement case as well as an announcement of a new round of nuclear negotiations with the P5+1. Furthermore, Khajehpour argued that a segment of eligible voters came to believe that non-participation was equal to “increasing the risk of more external pressure,” which is something that the average Iranian does not want.
The speaker concluded that the parliamentary elections have underlined three important factors: the illusion of a united front among the conservative forces is dead; Ahmadinejad has lost support within the society; and the Green Movement can still mobilize social and political forces. The last factor, according to Khajehpour, could be the most telling, as he views this as an opportunity for political reconciliation between Supreme Leader Khamenei and supporters of the Green Movement. Khajehpour argued that this could eventually lead to the release of the Green Movement leaders, Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hussein Mousavi, from house arrest, and the leadership of the reformist movement from prison.
By Hanif Zarrabi-Kashani, Middle East Program