Accordingly, along with the presidency, the Islamic Consultative Assembly is one of the two republican institutions of the system in Iran that is elected by referendum. With the Parliamentary elections, which are held in every four years, heated debates take place between currents and groups participating in the elections on issues such as the system structure in country, objectives and future of the revolution, and interests of the country. The Parliamentary elections and the results give important clues on understanding how Iranian politics will be shaped and which power groups are determinative in politics. The 9th Parliamentary elections are particularly important as it will be the first general election to be held after the controversial election, in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected as President for the second time in 2009 and bloody events took place upon the protests of reformist opposition afterwards. In this article, perceptions on primary political groups, the ideas, goals and politics of these groups to participate in the 9th Parliamentary elections that will be held in Iran, as well as perceptions on their future will be introduced.
According to the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Iran, despite the freedom to establish political parties, there is not any organized and strong political party structuring. And the underlying reason is that the electoral system is not organized in a multi-party system but in a non-partisan way. Accordingly, in all the elections held in Iran, candidates can run as an independent candidate if they receive approval of the Guardian Council, and the electors do not vote for parties, but for candidates individually. However, various social organizations in the country serve as political party in intellectual terms and they issue lists composed of candidates they support in the elections. Nevertheless, it is possible to see the name of a candidate in more than one list, as there is no organized political party structuring.
In the 9th Parliamentary elections to be held on Friday, 5 strong political groups competing for 290 seats draw the attention. These groups can be listed as follows: United Principalist Front (Jibheye Mottahade Osoulgarayan), Persevering Front (Jibhaye Paidari), Resistance Front (Jibheye İstadegi), Critics of the Tenth Administration Front (Jibheye Montaghadeene Dowlate Dehom), and Voice of the Nation Front (Jibheye Sadaye Mellat), Faith and Justice Front (Jibheye Vahdet va Adalat). All of these groups are conservative groups. The reformist group, excluded from the political scene upon the arrests taking place in Iran after the 2009 elections and upon the fact that leaders such as Mousavi and Karroubi were put under house arrest, does not participate in the elections to be carried out on Friday. Therefore, 9th Parliamentary elections will witness competition of conservative groups in an environment in which these groups are split.
The United Principlist Front (Jibheye Mottahade Osoulgarayan) is led by Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani, Secretary-General of the Militant Clergy Association, and Mohammed Yazdi, Secretary-General of the Combatant Clergy Association. This group, which was established upon the union of many different principalist groups under the same roof as a result of Iran's supreme religious leader Khamene’i's calling his supporters to be in 'unity', describes being principalist in its declaration of the formation on the basis of 'sources' and 'content'. The sources are; Islam, Islamic Republic (constitution), Way of Imam Khomeini, and Velayat-e Faqih. And the content is composed of twelve items, primary ones of which can be listed as follows: To protect Islam, values of Islamic Revolution and Velayat; to respect ulama, to live a modest life, to protect the weak, to believe in legitimate freedoms and religious democracy, to side against enemies and troublemakers, to work under the shadow of Leader (Rahbar) for the harmony of powers, to desire the unity of Islamic Umma. The United Principalist Front announced that with these sources and content, they will work for establishing ground for maintaining 'unity' among the Islamic umma and for making those who wish harm on the Iranian nation fail. [i] This group prepared its most important candidate list for Teheran and many notable people are nominated in this list. Some are personalities such as Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel, who is father-in-law of the son of Iran's supreme leader Khamenei and served as former Speaker of Parliament, Vice-President of the Parliament Sayyid Muhammad Hasan AbuTurabi Fard. Ali Larijani, the current Speaker of Parliament, is supported in the list of Qom province of this group.
The Persevering Front, which is the second most powerful group of the parliamentary elections, was officially established by those who are supporters of Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi on June 2011. Until the dissidence and conflict between Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamene’i and President Ahmadinejad became more profound; Mesbah Yazdi, the real supporter of Ahmadinejad and an effective political figure, withdrew his support from him. Nevertheless, there are many figures among the members of Persevering Front who are also served in the cabinet of Ahmadinejad. People like; Hojjatoleslam Morteza Agha-Tehrani, Ahmadinejad's former Minister of Health Kamran Baqer Lankarani, his legal advisor Gholam Hossein Elham, and fundamentalist clergymen such as Muhammad Hosseinian and Hamid Rasaee grab attention. Describing themselves as real principalists, the Persevering Front call the Iranian people to participate in the elections in unity to fight against internal and external enemies, seditionists (Green Movement) and against deviant current (supporters of Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei, who is known as the closest figure to Ahmadinejad). They ask the people to fulfill the responsibility of participating in this election within the frame of divine and revolutionary values as they did/have done during the Iran-Iraq war, the December 30th 2009 (when supporters of the current system poured into streets and declared their loyalty to Velayat-i Faqih against the reformist protests after the 2009 presidential elections), during anniversaries of the victory of the Islamic Revolution, various referendums and elections. In a nutshell, the Persevering Front expects the deputy candidates to have this content: Personal loyalty to religious sources, honesty, ability and will in handling state matters and in solving problems of the people; a transparent background in socially and politically protecting the sources of Islamic Revolution, and loyalty to Velayet-i Faqih, an altruistic past, to believe in the discharge of Islamic Revolution, not to have a relation with opposition groups and especially with troublemakers in 2009 elections, not to be related to deviant current, to be transparent regarding the scholarly fight against this current, to stay away from centers of power and wealth, to believe in soft war, and to resist the cultural front of enemy. In addition to all these, the Persevering Front also expects certain scholar and expertise features from the candidates; and these features can be listed as follows: having an expertise or at least having social, cultural and economic knowledge to be sufficient to work in expertise commissions of the Parliament; having an experience in relevant area of expertise in terms of management and practice, and keeping in touch with knowledgeable people both from institutions of religious education (hozeh) and also from universities on the relevant area of expertise.[ii] The Persevering Front announced a list of thirty people among the candidates with these features for Teheran, and six candidates in this list are also found on the list of United Principalist Front. For instance, Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel, who is the most emphasized candidate of the United Principalist Front in Teheran, is also nominated on the Teheran list of the Persevering Front.
Although the Persevering Front states that they do not support the followers of Ahmadinejad, other conservatives make propaganda claiming that this front is the follow-up of the Rayehe-ye Khosh-e Khedmat group (Pleasant Scent of Servitude) established by Ahmadinejad and his supporters. So much so that Tehran MP Hamid Reza Katouzian claimed that Rahim Mashaee is the secret supporter behind the Persevering Front. [iii]
The third important conservative group competing in the 9th Parliamentary elections is the Resistance Front led by the retired Major General Mohsen Rezaee. Rezaee, who was the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Chief Commander between years 1981-1997, is currently the Secretary of the Expediency Discernment Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran (constitutional institution established in 1988 to resolve differences or conflicts between the Majlis and the Council of Guardians). And the Secretary-General of the Resistance Front is Hojjatoleslam Yadollah Habibi, who was once the ideological and political director of the armed forces. In declaration issued by the Resistance Front for the 9th Parliamentary elections, it is stated that these elections are quite important both because of the internal situation of the country and also because of the special conditions of the international environment. While describing the internal situation of the country, the Resistance Front mentions economic and social goals such as the economic situation, unemployment, reaching the objective of the program of rearranging subventions, and achievement of the 20-year development plan that was put into practice in 2004. In the declaration, it is highlighted that nation's love and determination will achieve these goals with the formation of the 9th Assembly as a result of these elections. And in the international environment, it is stated that the enemies of Islam and Iran spread terror and violence through scientific and economic sanctions, that scientists of the country being terrorized, and that they raise difficulties to prevent benefiting from peaceful nuclear science in order to break the resistance spirit of the Iranian nation and the Islamic awakening in the region. Stating that the 9th Parliamentary elections will ruin all these plans of enemies, Resistance Front calls the people to go to the polls and to protect the Islamic order, Velayet-i Faqih, ideals of martyrs, divine-political will of Imam Khomeini by doing their Islamic and national duty once again.[iv] Some of the candidates of this group, which announced list for many provinces, also take place in the lists of United Principalist Front and Persevering Front. In addition to this, the fact that the names of many former members of the Revolutionary Guard Corps are put in the lists draw the attention.
Other important groups making their presence felt before the elections are Critics of the Tenth Administration Front and Voice of the Nation Front which are composed of anti-Ahmadinejad conservatives. The Critics of the Tenth Administration Front is led by Ali Abbaspour Tehrani, and its Speaker is Hamid Reza Katouzian. As critics of Ahmadinejad government the Front, which introduce themselves as loyal to the ideals of the Islamic Revolution, underlines the necessity of creating area of freedom, strengthening the system, and struggling with external threats. According to the Front, the current requirement of the Iranian society is to struggle with illegality, to promote justice and rationalism, to respect freedoms and rights of the people within the frame of Constitution; to do so, a powerful assembly is needed.[v] On the other hand, Voice of the Nation Front states in the declaration signed by Ali Motahari, Ali Abbaspour Tehrani, Hamid Reza Katouzian and Reza Hosseini that the organizers of this movement recognize themselves as principalist and that they agree with principalists with the dominance of religious values and necessity of velayet-i faqih despite the fact that their preferences conflict with the preferences of some people from the principalist group.[vi] These anti-Ahmadinejad fronts, which are relatively smaller compared to the other groups, declared a list, in which they support sixteen candidates in Tehran province.
Lastly, we can mention the Faith and Justice Front that is composed of the supporters of Ahmadinejad. This Front declared that it is necessary to have an administration in line with the ideas of the leaders of Islamic Revolution in the country as implemented by the ninth and tenth governments under presidency of Ahmadinejad. Stating that they are in need of declaring their own independent lists because of the absence of desired and idealist candidates in the lists of other groups, the Front declared thirty names, some of whom are also found in the lists of other groups, for the Tehran province.[vii] However, Hojjatoleslam Morteza Agha Tehrani, who is also found in Persevering Front that follows Mesbah Yazdi, made a statement regarding that they have no relation between this front known as the supporter of Rahim Mashaee and that he did not give any permission for his name to take place in this list. [viii] As a matter of fact, while other principalists criticize Ahmadinejad and Mashaee supporters as being the deviant current, they accused the Persevering Front, which declared they would not even nominate the ones related to this current as candidate, of receiving secret support from Mashaee. The strong reaction of Agha Tehrani to his being presented as candidate by Faith and Justice Front could be understood in this manner.
On the other side of the spectrum is found the reformists and Green Movement excluded from the politics after the 2009 presidential elections. However, as their leaders were under house arrest, and a significant segment of society taking part in this front such as intellectuals, politicians, lawyers, human rights defenders, students were either in prison or left the country; it was not possible for them to organize for the Parliamentary elections. As a matter of fact, the Reformist Front Coordination Council announced that pro-reform groups of the country would not participate in elections in recent couple of months. The candidacies of reformists, who are called “seditionits” (fitnegara) makers by the principalists and considered as enemies within the country, would not be approved by the Guardian Council anyway. For these reasons, the reformist list does not take place in the elections. The high rate of participation in elections in Iran is considered as the proof that Islamic regime is approved by the people and that its legitimacy still continues. Therefore, the reformists, who are excluded from the system and who do not have political representation, call the people to boycott the elections. In the statement made by the Coordinating Council of the Green Path of Hope (Rahe Sabze Omid) last Thursday, it was indicated that participating in the “rubber-stamp elections” would mean maintaining policies against national interests and desires of the people and consolidating tyranny. The Council stated that taking part in elections would be against the national ideals of 1979 Revolution rather than being a national duty; thus it is not against Shari’ah. Besides completely boycotting the elections, the Council called the supporters of Green Movement to explicitly emphasize illegitimacy of the elections in a public domain on March 1st right before the election date. Along with the Freedom Movement of Iran (Nehzate Azadiye Iran), which was declared unlawful, other major reformist groups such as the Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization (Sazman-e Mojaheeden-e Enghelab-e Eslami) and the Islamic Iran Participation Front (Mosharekat) also support the call for boycotting elections.[ix]
On the other hand, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, whose increasing role in Iranian politics is being mentioned frequently especially in recent years and which had undeniably supported the election of Ahmadinejad as President, announced on an article, written by Brigadier General Yadollah Javani in Sobh-e Sadegh Journal, what kind of candidates they would support. Accordingly, Javani asserted that they would support the candidates, who do not consider themselves separate from public, who are revolutionist, supporter of Velayat, stands against the U.S., Israel and other 'authoritarian' regimes, who are pious and faithful, who are against sedition (fitna) and deviant currents (jarayane enferadi), who are not related to centers of power and wealth, and who are intellectual, smart, capable and not afraid of enemy. [x] All fronts require most of these features in their candidates. However, the features such as staying away from centers of power and wealth, being against seditionist and deviant currents, and not being afraid of enemy are only required by the Persevering Front. To this respect, it could be suggested that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards will give more support to the candidates of Mesbah Yazdi and Persevering Front than the other candidates.
All in all, 9th Iranian Parliamentary elections will witness the competition of conservative groups in the country among themselves. The emphasis regarding that Iran is besieged by internal and external enemies is one of the most striking slogans of the election atmosphere. It is explained to the people by emphasizing that it is quite important to go to the polls and show their support to the system in fighting against these enemies and in defining future of the country. Therefore, it is obvious that the participation in elections and patriotism is lumped together. Furthermore, the election results will also show whether the power struggle between Khamene’i and Ahmadinejad will be in favor of the former or the latter. At the same time, it will also give signals regarding who could be elected as president after Ahmadinejad in the presidential elections to be held next year.
[ix] 'Stay home on Election Day' Green Council calls on Iranians, http://en.irangreenvoice.com/article/2012/feb/2
Pınar Arıkan, ORSAM Middle East Advisor, METU Department of International Relations