Iran All Set to Hold Legislative Polls after A Frenzied Week of Campaigning

Alireza Hashemi
With the campaign season ending Thursday morning, the countdown to the 11th vote for the Islamic Consultative Assembly has begun. For over a week, candidates were trying hard to appeal to nearly 58 million Iranians who are eligible to cast votes in the country of 83 million.
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In a maximum of three or four days, the would-be lawmakers will know if they can hold a seat in the 290-seat parliament for the next four years.  According to official figures, 7,148 candidates were eligible to run in the Friday votes, hundreds of which announced withdrawal during the campaigning period.


The Guardian Council, a body in charge of vetting electoral candidates, rejected applications of 7,296 candidates. The council is legally barred from publicizing the reasons for disqualifications, but it appears many were rejected due to legal, financial or moral issues.


Who’s who?

Majlis seats are distributed among 207 electoral districts. With 30 seats, Tehran has the largest delegation of any district. Principlists and reformists, the two main camps in Iranian politics, have each released their own lists of candidates.


But many of those included in the lists are unknown to the average citizen. Principlists claim they value youthfulness and reformists say many of notable candidates have been disqualified.


Principlists had initially offered two main lists, one by the Council for Coalition of Revolutionary Forces, an alliance of 11 principlist groups, and another by the Islamic Revolution’s Endurance Front, which consists of conservatives inspired by Shia cleric Ayatollah Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah Yazdi.


But late Monday the two bodies agreed to issue a joint list of candidates, headed by former police chief and Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf. The list also features well-known personalities such as Mastafa Mir Salim, the head of the principlist Islamic Coalition Party, along with veteran lawmakers Morteza Aghatehrani, Elias Naderan and Bjian Nobaveh.


The High Council for Reformist Policymaking, the top reformist faction, announced earlier this month it would not publish an official candidates list for the 2020 elections. However, Executives of Construction Party, a pro-reform party which involves the followers of late president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, has published a thirty-member list.


A separate group of eight reformist parties have also released a candidates list, which is highly similar to the other reformist list. The top candidate in both lists is Majid Ansari, a former vice president for parliamentary affairs and the secretary for of the Association of Combatant Clerics.


Mohammad-Hossein Moghimi, a former governor of Tehran, Mostafa Kavakebian, the leader of the Democracy Party, Mohammad-Reza Rahchamani, the secretary-general of National Unity and Cooperation Party and Alireza Mahjoub, the secretary-general for the Worker House are some of prominent candidates included in the two lists.


Can reformists repeat 2016 victory?

In previous elections, the reformist bloc and allies of President Hassan Rouhani won 41 percent of the seats, principlists won 29 percent and independents took 28 percent.  In Tehran, the List of Hope, an alliance of reformists and backers of the incumbent government, gave a painful blow to rival principlists by securing all 30 seats.


Since the parliament were dominated by principlists for 12 years, the 2016 results could be considered a significant achievement for reformists and their pro-government allies. But it appears unlikely that reformists manage to repeat their victory in the 2016 votes. 


The government of Hassan Rouhani, which enjoyed widespread reformist support during the presidential elections, faces serious criticism over economic hardships and a nuclear deal that many believe hardly did any good to Iranians. The US assassination of IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani early January was widely seen as another blow to reformists who have long favored engagement with the west.


How about turnout?

The turnout stood at 62% for the 2016 race and 64% for the 2012 race. It’s really unclear the polls will see how much voters as Iranians have rarely been predictable when it comes to elections. The disqualification of almost a half of those who registered has met with strong criticism of reformists and pro-government figures, leading to calls for the boycott of elections.


Severe economic problems Iranians are facing could be another factor contributing to a low turnout. But people in villages and small towns would not care that much about national concerns, so the total turnout will not decrease significantly. The second round of elections will be held in May in any of 207 constituencies where no candidate has managed to garner a threshold of 25 percent of the votes.