The new parliament and domestic politics in Iran

Political processes in Iran due to the specificity of the political regime and political culture are of some interest. A hybrid political regime in Iran, that combines democratic, electoral mechanisms and theocratic elements, has created an unparalleled political culture and political behavior. The parliamentary elections on February 21, 2020 again intensified domestic political discourse among the Iranian elites, and political messages dedicated to the beginning of the work of the newly elected Iranian parliament at the end of May became an occasion and a starting point for the formation of a new political reality. This article analyses the current political situation and the main approaches of the two main political forces in Iran and the impact of these discussions on Iranian political life.

Key Words: Domestic policy in Iran, Political messages in domestic political discourse, Conservative wave

After a certain stability in controlling coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) domestic politics in Iran beginning activated. A country with ambitions and a specific ideological orientation, of course, cannot but have a self-sufficient domestic political discourse, the elements of which can sometimes even be projected onto behavior in foreign policy. While Iran’s foreign policy is fairly well-studied and well-monitored, due to some closed political system, the domestic political field remains without due attention. In fairness, it should be noted that this is facilitated by the particularities of the political regime, the complex and non-traditional (for Western understanding) analysts, the structure of power, the political system, as well as the mechanisms for making political decisions. 
A certain domestic political activity, which was rather a continuation of the growth of social tension after rising gas/petrol prices, almost turned into a social rebellion. However, following the tradition, and this time the Iranian political regime in the most critical moments was able to mobilize and eliminate the problem. Once again, Iranian politicians demonstrated this quality, and the country was able to avoid an undesirable scenario and an uncontrolled surge in violence. Social protests that could turn into a riot — the scenario of many opponents and enemies of the Islamic republic quickly left the information field. Of course, the problems that had arisen was not go away, but they were pushed a little further. Since many of the reasons for social tension are economic problems, and economy greatly diluted by US sanctions against Iran, a certain consensus has developed among Iranian political elites on this issue. In any case, social protest did not become an active vector, and after that completely ceded its place to the February 2020 parliamentary elections. The short electoral company was unable to identify a new discourse, and the disqualification of many candidates for parliament made the elections more complaisant. The elections themselves, which already took place during the days of the progressive pandemic of the coronavirus, were at all one of the quietest and most convenient elections in Iran. On the one hand, fear of the coronavirus, and on the other hand disqualification of reformists/moderate created a situation where a fairly large and politically active part of the population/electorate withdrew from the process.  The lowest election turnout in Iran’s post-revolutionary history is a clear demonstration of this situation.

Winner-take-all. Thus, the Iranian conservatives and their allies took away the country’s parliament, where their positions have been weak since 2012.
Now, after the country moved away from the shock of the spread of coronavirus, it was able to control the situation and politicians began to engage in ordinary affairs and make familiar speeches. All this coincided with the beginning of the eleventh Majlis, that is, the Iranian parliament, which was sworn in the last days of May. The election of Qalibaf as a conservative majority as a speaker is not only a symbolic episode. Being a politician who projects himself as a neoconservative, Qalibaf, as a representative of the second wave of the post-revolutionary Iranian elite, in essence is a collective image of a conservative camp. Although reformists have already announced their new wave and leaders, conservatives can only talk about it now. There is a situation where conservatives control two of the three branches of government:  the speaker of the parliament, Qalibaf and the head of the judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, and the guaranteed control of the so-called reformist executive authorities, represented by President Rouhani, is coming to an end. A presidential election will be held in a year, and if a conservative wave maintains strength and momentum, it is likely that reformers will lose this position as well. Extremely unfavorable environment for Rouhani administration, the tightening of US sanctions, the huge costs of supporting external activity, the decline in the economy, the effects of the virus, as well as very low oil prices severely undermine the president’s position. For the politician, who is responsible for the economy, this is a very heavy blow; in fact, these failures undermine the current president of the electoral expectations of reform-minded segments of the population. In general, if during this time the reformers can even find a super popular politician (and in the lagging time to promote him, which is quite difficult in Iranian political reality), then this skepticism will only intensify. The conservative part already has candidates: — the same Qalibaf, who does not hide his interest in running for president again, and Ebrahim Raisi, who is ready to get involved in the race again. There was a strange and funny situation when all three main contenders of the last presidential election (Rouhani, Raisi and Qalibaf) simultaneously appeared at the head of the executive, judicial and legislative branches.
A country where the foundation of political strategy is developed theocratic institutions in dire need of consensus. The very strong role that the Iranian political system has assigned to the supreme leader also requires stability. The issue of continuity is also strongly linked to the consensus of all political forces. Undoubtedly, the Iranian political elite is very responsible and is unlikely to allow itself to cross the red line, but at the same time even a superficial analysis of approaches and principles gives reason to assert that there are value contradictions. With the development of the country, these contradictions are increasingly moving away from political opponents and it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to hide their positions behind common, mostly populist slogans. Opinions agree on one thing: the country’s further development requires a reassessment of the entire political, economic and social life of Iranian society. Reformists and moderate approaches are very different from the traditionalists, suggesting a different political agenda, which is not very easy to reconcile. In this regard, even in the congratulatory messages of the supreme leader Khamenei and President Rouhani addressed to the new, 11th Majlis, diametrically opposed views can be traced regarding the future development of the country, and this primarily concerns the economic line. Although the presidency of Rouhani will last only a year, he nevertheless once again voiced the position of a moderate camp. Turning to the new, more conservative parliament, Rouhani offers, in addition to ordinary income and taxes, to activate the financial market and offers to sell shares of state-owned companies through stock markets or to place bonds of such companies on the same platforms. All of this in his opinion should lead to a «people’s economy» and most importantly the government will no longer manage the state property. If we look at this thesis, it is a banal repetition of a moderate government Rouhani tried to hold on for the past 7-8 years. Of course, the course towards the privatization of the moderate by the main beneficiaries of which will subsequently be large commercial, industrial and banking capital is not only of a theoretical nature. If we take into account that state property is constitutionally protected (according to Article 44 of the Iranian Constitution) and in almost all system-forming sectors (heavy engineering, foreign trade, petrochemical industry, banking, insurance, energy, information communications, transport communications, telecommunications sector), priority given to the state (Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran p.13), such a formulation of the question is an open challenge to the foundations of the Islamic republic. It is another matter if the concept of the state of Rouhani means numerous economic projects and assets of the IRGC and various quasi-state and spiritual funds, which, being outside the control of the government, make up a significant share (according to various estimates, about 1/3) of the Iranian economy. In any case, such statements by the outgoing politician are of no interest to anyone, but they will undoubtedly be taken into account. Iranian conservatives can only tolerate a year when in 2021st year, Rouhani will leave his post. Nevertheless, the main strategic line for the conservative political elite in the current situation is the one designated by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Ayatollah Khamenei agreed with the president in one thing: — «in matters of justice and progress, we were not able to get satisfactory ratings.» If we remove the characteristic shades of oriental etiquette from this assessment, here under the word “we” the Supreme leader most likely suggests a moderate government led by Rouhani and this is more like a general assessment of the activities of reformists / moderate. Having designated economy and culture as the main priority of the new Majlis, the supreme leader calls for practical efforts in matters related to the welfare of socially vulnerable segments of the population. Ensuring employment, production issues, the national currency exchange rate, curbing inflation and prudent spending of public funds are the main ways to ensure justice for Khamenei. Although there is no reference in the handling of the thesis of the «Resistance economy», the authorship of which belongs to the Supreme Leader Khamenei, most likely, these policy settings will be accepted by Iranian conservatives, as an element arising from that policy. Reasonable conservatism in the Iranian understanding will probably become a leitmotif of the political processes in the country, the main task of which will be stability and predictability.


The Greater Middle East 2020

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