Ahmadinejad Faces Stormy New Parliament

TEHRAN – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can expect considerable opposition in the newly elected parliament – set to be installed on May 27 – that has a considerable number of representatives from rival hard-liners, conservatives, and a stronger reformist minority.

Hard-liners and conservatives critical of Ahmadinejad’s economic and foreign policies are likely to unite with the reformists to exercise more control on the government, analysts in Tehran say.

The hard-liners’ and conservatives’ camp, referred to as "principlists," broke into two main coalitions in the March 14 parliamentary elections. The schism occurred just days before the vote when the pro-government group refused to include some of the candidates proposed by other hard-liner and conservative groups in the coalition’s joint list for the 30 seats of Tehran.

The pro-Ahmadinejad coalition, known as the United Front of Principlists, which includes a nucleus of hard-core Ahmadinejad men, claims to have won the highest number of 220 seats, decided in the first round of elections nationwide.

Sixty-eight more seats where none of the candidates have been able to acquire a minimum of 25 percent of the total votes will be decided later in run-off elections.

Fewer seats have gone to the rival Comprehensive Coalition of Principlists, which consists of supporters of a triad of politicians critical of Ahmadinejad’s economic and foreign policy.

The three politicians are former nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, Tehran mayor Mohammad Qalibaf, and Mohsen Rezaie, who is now secretary of the country’s influential Expediency Council.

For the speakership of the next parliament, the Comprehensive Coalition of Principlists is expected to support Ali Larijani against incumbent speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel, who is favored by the pro-Ahmadinejad coalition, a spokesman for the coalition told reporters.

Larijani had originally been on the joint list of principlist candidates from Tehran but changed his constituency to Qom, Iran’s religious capital, where he won a landslide victory against his pro-government rival.

"Reformists will most likely support Larijani’s speakership. This will make him a mighty rival for Haddad Adel, who is criticized for having made the current parliament a tool in the hands of the government, helping grant it whatever it wishes with least resistance even when everybody knows he is going wrong," a reformist politician, who did not want to be quoted by name, told IPS.

"They are also likely to help the hard-liner and conservative rivals of the government group to prevent Mohammad Reza Bahonar, the vice speaker, from holding the same position again. Bahonar and Haddad Adel jointly blocked every effort in the current parliament to control the government," he said.

In the parliamentary polls reformists managed to nearly double their votes, compared to the elections for the seventh parliament four years ago, in spite of losing the majority of their high-profile and even second and third class candidates to pre-election vetting by the country’s election watchdog, the Council of Guardians.

Several high-profile reformist candidates, including former vice president Mohammad Reza Aref, withdrew from elections in protest against mass disqualification of reformist candidates.

In Tehran where reformists seemed to enjoy popularity, they hoped to take the largest share of the seats. But when the results were announced their hopes were shattered – 19 seats went to pro-government hard-liners and conservatives in the first round.

The remaining 11 will be decided in late April or early May in run-off elections, because candidates for these seats have not been able to secure the required minimum of 25 percent of the total votes.

The 11 candidates, all from the pro-government coalition, will have to compete with the next 11 candidates – 10 reformists and one from the rival principlist camp – according to Iran’s election laws.

Reformist leaders – former president Mohammad Khatami and former parliament speaker and leader of the Etemad Melli Party Mahdi Karrubi – have officially asked the Council of Guardians for a recount of the votes in Tehran.

"Reformists suffered the loss of the majority of their candidates nationwide to the pre-election vetting. In many constituencies they had no candidates at all to compete with hard-liners and conservatives, but they still managed to win a respectable number of seats in places where they still had candidates," a reformist journalist in Tehran requesting anonymity told IPS.

"In Tehran reformists managed to gather all their forces and had candidates to compete with hard-liners and conservatives for all the 30 seats of the capital. That voters in Tehran give the first 30 ranks to hard-liners and conservatives and choose reformists over hard-liners and conservatives in provinces where voters are more conservatively minded can be considered as very suspicious," the journalist said.

The Comprehensive Coalition of Principlists has also officially protested election violations by the pro-government coalition such as illegal campaigning on election day and infractions in polling stations.

One of the candidates of the Comprehensive Coalition of Principlists, Amir Reza Khadem, has also asked the Council of Guardians for a recount of his votes. According to polls taken before the elections in various parts of Tehran he must have been among the top 10 vote-getters, he said in his letter of protest to the Council of Guardians.

"One of the characteristics of the recent elections is the low turnout in Tehran. Only 27 percent of the eligible voters in the capital went to the polls, as opposed to around 55 percent for the country," the analyst said.

"Another important factor shown by the makeup of the votes is that the pro-government winners are far less popular than thought, at least in Tehran, which usually sets the trend for the whole country," he said.