On February 26, 2016 elections will be held in Iran both for Parliament (Majlis) and for the Assembly of Experts, the Council created by Khomeini to institutionalize the velayat-e faqih, the “guardianship of the jurist”, which characterizes the specific subjection of Iran’s civil and criminal law (and politics) to the evaluation of the faqih, namely the experts of the Shi’ite Islamic law.

This happens pending the arrival of the twelfth Imam, the Hidden Imam, who will mark the end of time and the universal conversion to Shi’ism.

He alone can really make the laws, and therefore the “experts” check the similarity of the rules to those that will be later laid down by the last Sovereign, the Last Imam, a descendant of Ali as his predecessors.

Given this theological and esoteric aspect, which can never be forgotten, from the organization and political viewpoints the Council of Experts is made up of 88 mujtahid, theologians and hence experts on Islamic law, who have not only the task of discussing the country’s political guidance and direction, but also to elect the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, namely the Rahbar.

The Council of Experts shall meet at least two days every six months.

The Supreme Leader is also much more powerful than the President elected by the people and appoints the top officers of the intelligence services, the military and the Revolutionary Guards, as well as the senior officials of the central bank and the Public Administration.

These elections had been scheduled for 2014, but they were postponed for two years so as to hold them at the same time as the elections for Parliament (Majlis).

The Council, which has the constitutional power to do so, quashed at least 80% of candidates, that is to say all women and Khomeini’s grandson, Hassan.

If all goes according to plan, this Council of Guardians will be crucial, because it should elect the successor of the current Rahbar, Ali Khamenei.

Tehran has been allocated 16 seats to the Council while, in other districts, the seats range between 6 and 1, which is the seat allocated to provinces such as the Bushehr province, where the oldest and major nuclear site is located.

The Council of Experts shall elect the new Supreme Leader with a majority of two thirds of its members, while the Assembly (Majlis) shall elect the President.

The Legislative Assembly consists of 290 members, 285 of whom elected directly and the five remaining ones are reserved for the admitted minorities: the Zoroastrians, Jews, Christians, Chaldeans, Assyrians and Armenians.

The constituencies are 196 and include both single-member constituencies based on a first past the post system and constituencies based on a proportional representation system.

In the former ones, with a view to being elected, the candidate shall obtain at least one third of votes in the first round. If this happens, in the second round the choice is between the two best placed candidates.

In the latter ones, voters can express as many preferences as the number of seats available for the constituency. With a view to being elected, the candidate must obtain at least one third of the valid votes, as in the former constituencies.

If not all seats are awarded, in the second round elections will be held with twice as many candidates as the seats available.

These are the rules, which are essential for understanding the political aspect of these dual elections in Iran.

The major competing parties are 12 and they are all fervent Islamist parties.

The broadest coalition seems to be the “Principalist group”, which brings together six political groups.

The candidate to the Assembly is Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel.

Former President of the Majlis, he has a high-profile Western and Shi’ite philosophical education and is not a cleric, namely a faqih.

He was a member of Parliament for thirteen years and in four elections he was supported by Abadgaran, the coalition of various parties and associations which, in 2004, brought Mahmoud Ahmadinedjad to power.

For years he has been one of the most listened advisers to Ali Khamenei and he ran for the presidential elections of July 2013, without great success.

It is a candidacy of high personal profile, but of absolute loyalty to the status quo.

The candidate of the “Reformists’ Coalition”, formed by four parties, is Mohammed Reza Aref.

He is a loyal aide of Khatami, with a degree in electrical engineering and a Ph.D. of the Stanford University. With a view to devoting himself to political activity, he refused a government position offered to him by Rowhani.

He is the only reformist candidate who can win.

Nevertheless political prospects are currently unpredictable in Iran: a large part of the public that, in Western terms, we would call “reformist” relates the improved economic conditions to a better climate between Iran and the West. However, the “conservative” front (another misnomer we use for the Iranian political sphere) takes advantage of the basic ambiguity of the JCPOA agreement reached between Iran and the P5+1 to topicalize the religious-political nationalism typical of the Islamic Republic.

If the national-religious card is played, which is the most accepted by the working classes, the reformers will lose – maybe narrowly – but they will certainly lose.

The candidate of the “People’s Voice Coalition” is Ali Motahari.

He has defined himself as a “conservative-liberal” and is the son of an important faqih, Morteza Motahari, who founded the “Council of Revolution of Iran” at the request of Khomeini, of whom he had been a disciple and aide during the Shah’s period. He was murdered by the People’s Mojahedin of Iran in 1979.

The Mojahedin were also those who, in 2002, disclosed the existence of Iran’s nuclear program.

The candidate Motahari is a cousin of the current Speaker of Parliament, Ali Larijani, who was one of the most careful negotiators of Iran’s nuclear deal with the P5+1 and is a very fierce critic of Ahmadinedjad.

The candidate of the “Islamic Awakening Front” is Shahab od-Din Sadr.

He is a doctor who was elected thrice as a member of Parliament in Tehran.

For the time being it is hard to make forecasts, but 28% of Iranian voters support “moderate” candidates, which means politicians who accept the JCPOA – but without some national diminutio capitis – and, above all, want to take advantage of the new international climate to redress and revive the Iranian economy, which is seen as a primary issue by 58% of voters.

24% of Iranian voters would like to see a political program in continuity with Ahmadinedjad’s.

This means Islamic nationalism, rejection of the JCPOA and what we would call “populism” – again with a Western political misnomer.

If a share of the moderate coalition’s votes adds to the 24% of Ahmadinedjad’s nostalgics, the feeble thread of the relationship with the West will break and the geo-economic solution can only be closer links with the Russian Federation and China, while an armed clash or a low-intensity war with Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies becomes more likely.

13% and 23% are the voting intentions predicted for the reformers and for Haddad-Adel’s followers.

In total, 41% will vote for candidates linked to Rafsanjani and Hassan Rowhani, the current President, coming from the moderate-reformist area.

Hence the JCPOA will be supported by the government, but with great caution and some probable backlash.

Reza Aref, Haddad-Adel Mohammed Reza Aref and Ali Mohtahari are the most popular candidates in the Tehran district and in the most populous constituencies.

If the Iranians voted for the whole reformers’ list and not for the individual parties and candidates composing it, they would win hands down.

Conversely, if the list of Haddad-Adel’s “Principalists” presented itself united, with all the parties composing it which collaborate with one another without electoral competition, Haddad-Adel’s followers would win over 80 seats.

Hence a highly unpredictable outcome, which will directly concern the nuclear deal and which will finally mark a polarization between “reformers” and “conservatives” – to use again Western misnomers – that will block the political system, with the results we can easily imagine.

Giancarlo Elia Valori
Giancarlo Elia Valori

Giancarlo Elia Valori * (twitter-logo@GEliaValori)

* Presidente della merchant bank “La centrale Finanziaria Generale S.p.A.”
– Presidente della “Cattedra sugli studi della pace, la sicurezza e lo sviluppo internazionale presso la Facoltà di relazioni internazionali della Peking University, nonché “professore straordinario” di economia e politica internazionale nello stesso Ateneo
– Honorable dell’Académie des Sciences dell’Institut de France