The 2004 Recurrence

The Impact of Escalation on the Domestic Political Equilibrium in Iran
Sunday، February 09، 2020
The 2004 Recurrence

The Conservative Fundamentalist movement in Iran, directly linked to the Republic’s Supreme Leader and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), is apparently heading towards achieving a significant win in the parliamentary elections due to take place on February 21, 2020. This will play a pivotal role in mapping out political forces within the country before the presidential elections of next year, which the Conservatives might also seize from the moderate stream.  The Conservatives are trying to take advantage of the heated political dynamics by using the current escalation with the US, after the murder of Qassem Soleimani, leader of ‘the Quds Force’, the rising possibilities of the failure of the nuclear agreement, and the referral of the Iranian case back to the Security Council, all for the sake of boosting their chances of taking control over the Regime’s center of authority.

Early warnings

Although the Guardian Council of the Constitution has not yet concluded examining the candidates’ portfolios for the parliamentary elections, President Hassan Rouhani was quick to comment on the preliminary procedures. He renounced the electoral disqualification of a huge number of candidates from the moderate stream, in addition to around 90 representatives in the current session of the Advisory Council. This reflects his view regarding the political route Iran is headed towards, be it the domestic political equilibrium, or the Iranian foreign policy for the coming phase. He confirmed that “it is impossible for just one stream to run the nation,” and pointed out at the same time to the fact that “the results of the coming elections will impact the nation’s foreign policy.” 

The recurrence of 2004 political scene

The Guardian Council harshly criticized Rouhani’s statements, which indicates that tension might be a main feature of the internal Iranian interactions. Such rift might also prolong with the continuation of the US sanctions. Such punitive measures might develop in the future into international sanctions, if the European states decide to activate the Conflict Resolution Mechanism of the nuclear agreement in case a settlement with Iran was not reached. 

This might lead to the eruption of a new political crisis, one that is similar to that of 2004, when the Guardian Council denied a huge number of candidates of the reformists’ stream to run for elections. This ultimately paved the way for the Conservatives to take over the Iranian Advisory Council, followed by the rising of the radical Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to office, after his huge win over the former President, Hashemi Rafsanjani.  Rafsanjani was more of a ‘Godfather’ to the moderate stream in the 2005 Presidential elections, which marked the outset of a new era, during which the Iranian political direction would be characterized by radicalism. During that time, following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the huge regional ramifications it imposed, Iran went too far in its regional interferences, to the extent of possessing the nuclear fuel cycle. 

Diverse signals

It was quite interesting that the Guardian Council’s ‘guillotine’ of candidates, using various justifications such as financial offences and corruption, was not limited to the candidates of the reformation-stream.  Yet, it  included some figures from the conservative fundamentalist stream in a manner that suggests that the actual reason behind the extensive elimination process was not only about the ideologies of the eliminated candidates, but is rather related to their stance towards some internal and external factors. It seems that endorsing the nuclear agreement represents one of the reasons for disqualification of such candidates from the elections, especially that the members of the council are key people in the conservative fundamentalist stream. Such forces, since the beginning, stood in opposition to the agreement, which includes, in their view, major compromises made by Iran. An example of such a concession is the altering of the operating system of ‘Arak’ reactor, which could have produced Plutonium, reducing the amount and the level of enriched Uranium. 

And therein lies the paradox. Endorsing the agreement was one of the factors contributing not only to the winning of a huge number of ‘moderate’ candidates in the elections held in 2016, enabling them to take over all the capital’s seats in Tehran, but also to eliminating some candidates of the Conservative Fundamentalist stream, who had opposed it.  Such as  Ruhollah Hosseinian, the former Conservative representative, who had previously threatened Mohammad Javad Zarif, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, claiming that he would “burry them alive and cover them with cement in Arak reactor.” 

In the same context, it is also important to observe how Hosseinian, who expects that Conservatives from the second-grade cadres to take over the Advisory Council in its new term, had previously called Ahmadinejad, the former President, to run for presidency, and to return to the political scene. This reveals a pressing attitude among the conservative fundamentalists towards adopting a more radical policy in dealing with internal and foreign issues during the next phase.

The Iranian street

Fundamentalist Conservatives are counting on the fact that the Moderates would not be able to rely once again on the street as a means of imposing pressure to boost their political positioning, considering that, they had lost the street’s confidence in the first place with President Hassan Rouhani’s failure. He was perceived as not being able to fulfill many of his promises. On top of which was the release of Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi from their house arrest, who led an anti-movement known by the “Iranian Green Movement” in 2009 against the presidential elections results. This could impede them from holding the same procedures until the results of the upcoming parliamentary elections are announced.

However, this could be faced with a seemingly difficult challenge. The fact that the Guardian Council had declined the portfolios of a huge number of moderate stream candidates could play a significant role in the decline of public participation in the elections. This is an important variable to be taken into consideration by the authorities, in specific with the observation of the level of voter participation by several international and regional power, which are in dispute with Iran. Participation might be an indicator of the amount of support given to the regime at the grassroots level, especially in light of the sanctions and pressures that Iran is facing, as well as the protests witnessed in the past few months. This might also result in the outburst of new protests, contrary to the desire of the conservatives, particularly due to the persistence of grounds of such protests, which was evident in the protests that erupted after Iran admitted shooting down the Ukrainian plane.

Finally, it is safe to say that the results of the upcoming Iranian parliamentary elections will reveal to a great extent the possible paths to which the Iranian political stream could be headed to in the coming phase, affecting its foreign policy and decisions towards the external challenges it is currently facing. 

Keywords: IranConservativesParliamentary Electionsreformists