PHOTO: Will centrists and reformists gain power in the new Parliament?


Iran has opened its 10th Parliament, following the surge of a centrist-reformist bloc in elections in February and April.

After more than a decade of conservative dominance, the centrist-reformist List of Hope won a plurality of the 290 seats in the Majlis. The success came despite an attempt by the Guardian Council to maintain conservative power with the disqualification of thousands of candidates.

The List of Hope won almost 42% of the two votes, with conservatives taking about 29%. Independents, who won about 22%, will hold the balance of power.

The Supreme Leader, whose office backed the conservatives in the elections, sent a message to the new MPs declaring that priorities
“are to realize a resistant economy…and also persevere in the endeavor at development and enrichment of the Islamic culture”. He continued:

There are other priorities in different sections, which pertain to national authority, reinforcement of security and the country’s impregnability, which guarantee the establishment of social justice and the country’s independence and advancement.

The Leader said the MPs should make the Majlis a strong bastion against the ploys and excessive demands of the “Global Arrogance”, a reference to the US, Israel, and other powers seen as enemies by Ayatollah Khamenei.

President Rouhani’s address focused on the economy: “To create jobs and eliminate poverty, we have no way other than economic prosperity”.

The Continuing Battle for Power

The Parliament is being seated as the contest for power continues within the regime.

Earlier this week, hardliners and conservatives hit back at the Rouhani Government with the selection of the 89-year-old Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the head of the Guardian Council, as the chair of the Assembly of Experts.

Jannati, who is also a Tehran Friday Prayer leader, has criticized President Rouhani’s efforts to open Iran’s political and social life. The Guardian Council has also been at odds with the President, who has tried to curb its powers but has been blocked by the Supreme Leader.

It had been expected that former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, a Rouhani ally, would try to regain the chair of the Assembly. However, Rafsanjani chose not to stand.

Sources inside Iran say that the centrist-reformist bloc chose to avoid a confrontation in the Assembly, preferring to concentrate on authority through Parliament. They note that Jannati’s term is only for two years and that his new role might take away from his work at the Guardian Council, perhaps even leading to a new head of the 12-member body.

However, the Assembly has already marked out its opposition to President Rouhani. In its first statement under Jannati, it declared that the US was undermining the July 2015 nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. It then called on Iranian officials to “avoid a JCPOA 2 or 3 that puts the capabilities of the great Iranian nation at risk of foreigners’ greed”.

That was a direct jab at Rouhani, who has told Iranians that the JCPOA will be followed by a “JCPOA 2” for economic recovery and engagement with the international community.

In his remarks to the new Assembly session, the Supreme Leader proclaimed an ongoing “soft war” between Iran and its enemies. Implicitly warning the Government and any political dissidents, he said three of the enemy tactics were “influencing decision-making centers”, “changing the beliefs of the people”, and “changing officials’ stances and calculations”. Targets included the Revolutionary Guards, the Guardian Council, and the clerical establishment.

Next: Choosing the Speaker and Passing A Budget

The immediate task of the new Parliament will be choosing a Speaker. Ali Larijani, who has held the position since 2008, is hoping to retain the seat; however, he is distancing himself from the conservative “principlist” movement in which he has been a leading member.

One MP, Gholam Ali Jafarzadeh, said on Friday that many principlists backing Larijani are renaming themselves as the “velayat faction”, referring to the Islamic Republic’s doctrine of velayat-e faqih — the guardianship of the Supreme Leader.

Larijani may be challenged by reformist leader Mohammad Reza Aref, who was instrumental in the success of the List of Hope in the elections. However, some reformists are urging Aref, who stood aside from the 2013 Presidential election to help ensure the victory of Hassan Rouhani, to again pull back in favor of a working coalition with Larijani.

The new Majlis also will be considering the long-delayed Government budget for 2016-17. The budget was supposed to be submitted in December, but was delayed because of the implementation of the July 2015 nuclear deal and the elections.

The process has been further complicated by the Supreme Leader’s warning to the Government that he will take control of economic planning if he believes President Rouhani and his Ministers are too weak, particularly with respect to policy towards the US.

Political Prisoner Golipour Given 39-Year Sentence

Alireza Golipour, imprisoned since 2012 on national security charges, has been given a sentence of 39 years and nine months.

Golipour was denied access to a lawyer until this month. He is reportedly suffering from lung cancer but has been refused medical care.

He was sentenced by the hardline Judge Abolghasem Salavati for “spying for foreigners,” “sympathizing” with the banned Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) organization, “insulting the Supreme Leader,” “disturbing public order”, and “acting against national security”.

The sentence is being appealed, including a petition for Golipour to serve only 15 years, the longest of the sentences handed down.

The detainee has also been condemned to 173 lashes for his supposed insult to the Supreme Leader.

Golipour was an employee of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology when he was arrested in September 2012.

Iran: Saudi Has Until Sunday for Deal on This Year’s Hajj

Saudi Arabia has until Sunday to accept Tehran’s conditions for the hajj of Iranian pilgrims to Mecca, according to the head of Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization.

Saeed Ohadi said in a televised interview on Friday night that Riyadh needs to “show its serious determination”. He said only six of 11 provisions — “entirely against the Iranian nationals’ dignity” — have been removed.

The talks of Iranian officials in Saudi Arabia had raised hope of eased relations after last September’s deadly crush at Mina, near Mecca — in which 464 Iranians were among almost 2,500 dead — and Saudi Arabia’s breaking of diplomatic ties with Riyadh in January.

See Iran Daily, May 27: Tehran and Saudi Arabia Try to Repair Relations