Iranian president Hasan Rouhani.



Why You Should Care About Iran's Parliamentary Elections

Last Friday, Iran held their quadrennial parliamentary elections. With all the excitement surrounding the primaries here in the US, it’s not surprising that something like this would go under your radar. But the outcomes of the Iranian elections might actually seriously impact the future of the country and their relationship with the US. Here’s what you need to know.

Iran’s government is becoming more moderate.

There aren’t any official political parties in Iran, but news outlets generally refer to three main political leanings—there are the liberal “reformists,” the conservative “hard-liners,” and the “moderates” who tend to fall somewhere in the middle. For a long time, hard-liners have had a stronghold on the Iranian government. After these elections, the number of seats they hold dropped from around 112 to 68, out of a total of 290 seats.

Iranian journalists following election results on Friday.
Iranian journalists following election results on Friday.

The overwhelmingly moderate turnout is emblematic of what some pundits are calling Iran’s current “centrist moment,” which many say began with the election of President Rouhani in 2013. And though Iran still has a hard-lining supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, with the power to override any policy made by the legislative body, a heavily-centrist parliament has the ability to possibly undermine Khamenei’s influence among the political elite, and nudge him in the direction of accepting more and more moderate policies.

Iranian president Hasan Rouhani.
Iranian president Hasan Rouhani.

The elections were also for a parliamentary body that will likely pick the next supreme leader.

Last Friday’s elections weren’t just for parliament. They were also for a government body called the Assembly of Experts, a group comprised of 90 senior clerical and political officials with one very important job: to pick the next supreme leader. Only if the current supreme leader dies or otherwise leaves office, that is. The members of the Assembly of Experts serve for eight years, but given the reports of Khamenei’s health being on the decline, it’s very likely that this Assembly will be the one to choose his successor.

This is worth noting, especially considering the fact that moderates now hold most of the Assembly seats. The possibility that the next supreme leader will allow for more liberal policies is a very real one.

Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei.
Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei.

All of this means big things for Iran’s relationship with the West.

The recent nuclear deal between Iran and the U.S. was hugely controversial in both nations, and many were uncertain as to how Iranian voters would react. This election was supposed to provide real insight as to whether or not the nuclear deal would survive, and whether tensions between the two countries would continue to relax. Fortunately, the turnout last Friday indicated that the majority of Iranians are supportive of President Rouhani’s foreign policies. This also effectively gives Rouhani the go-ahead—and even puts some pressure on him—to continue to both strengthen friendly relations with the West and to seek other opportunities for political and economic growth through diplomacy.

Iranians lined up to vote on Friday.
Iranians lined up to vote on Friday.

But let’s make sure we understand something—it’s not as if Iran has become a liberal utopia, or that it’s running with weepy eyes and open arms to give the West a big hug. And we won’t even know the true outcome of these elections until we see these newly-elected legislators in action. But this does look like a step in a more progressive and diplomatic direction, and we can only hope to see the voice of the Iranian people continue to strengthen within their government.

Images via Vox, NBC, the Times of Israel, and Yahoo.

Stay tuned to Milk for more election coverage. 

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