Iranian Runoff Vote and Accusations of Interference
May 24, 2012
By: Garrett Nada | Printer Friendly
On May 5, the results of Iran’s runoff parliamentary election were released. The Iranian states news agency reported that 130 candidates competed for the remaining 65 seats in the parliament. Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor of political science at Tehran University, characterized the election as “a face-off between pro- and anti-Ahmadinejad conservative factions within the ruling regime.” Supporters of President Ahmadinejad took 13 seats, while independents took 11. Supporters of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei further solidified their control of the legislature by winning 41 seats. Ahmadinejad had already suffered a significant setback last March, when supporters of Khamenei took 75 percent of the available seats in the first round election.
In 2011, relations between the two leaders further soured after Ahmadinejad challenged Khamenei’s choice of intelligence chief. The disagreement undercut much of the President’s political support. Analysts believe that some of the independent members of parliament may support Ahmadinejad but given the results of the parliamentary elections, he will face a very hostile parliament for the remainder of his term. According to the constitution, he cannot run for a third term and will have to step down in 2013. According to Professor Zibakalam, the president wanted to “groom one of his supporters to be his replacement” but he doubts Ahmadinejad has retained enough power to influence the presidential elections next year.
Once the new parliament convenes, Ahmadinejad’s economic policies will likely come under fire immediately. Reuters reported that members of the outgoing parliament claim that the second phase of his controversial Targeted Subsidy Reform Plan is being implemented without their approval. In March, the government increased monthly cash payments from oil revenues to offset the second phase, which will include the cutting of some eighty billion dollars in government subsidies on goods and fuel. While the International Monetary Fund encourages Ahmadinejad’s economic reforms, domestic critics say the president is using Iranian oil revenues for political gain and causing high inflation in the process. Parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani wrote to Supreme Leader Khamenei, citing the increased payments as “legally flawed.” In another effort to garner domestic support, Ahmadinejad visited the disputed island of Abu Musa near the Strait of Hormuz in April. Iran took control of the island in 1971 but the United Arab Emirates does not accept Iran’s annexation of the island along with two others. At least on nationalist issues like this one, the president can claim widespread support from across the political spectrum.
Ahmadinejad has already taken considerable criticism from pro-Khamenei members of parliament. As previously reported, he became the first Iranian president to be summoned to parliament for questioning in March. He was criticized for his mishandling of the economy. Most recently, on May 21, a hardliner member of parliament, Ali Motahari, attacked the president for allegedly harboring lax views on the Islamic dress code. He claimed that Ahmadinejad and his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, are allowing women to “wear (in public) trousers, and coats that don’t cover the knees.” He addressed the president directly, sarcastically suggesting that he might as well “open nightclubs to satisfy the sexual desires of the youth.” Ahmadinejad opposes the use of the police to enforce the dress code but there has been a tangible uptick in enforcement over the last few days, probably in reaction to Motahari’s comments. On the other hand, another conservative member of parliament, Mohammad Esmail Kossari, called on Iran’s judiciary to hold Motahari accountable for his “harmful” comments. Another member referred to the statements as “immoral.”
Motohari also attracted attention on May 21, when he accused the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Basij (the IRGC’s voluntary militia) of rigging the March parliamentary election. There is no doubt that votes were bought during the election. In March, Al Arabiya reported that IRGC and Basij members rode around Iranian cities on bikes and paid money to pedestrians on their way to the poles. Allegedly, several individuals who paid out the bribes were arrested but released after the IRGC intervened. In response to Mothari’s allegations, General Ramadan Sharif said that the IRGC is committed to the teachings of Ayatollah Khomeini and will therefore never interfere in legislative elections.
For previous news on Iran, please see:
Loyalists Dominate Iranian Parliamentary Election
Associated Press - Iran elections erode Ahmadinejad's support
AFP - Ahmadinejad should 'open nightclubs': Iran MP jibes
Al Arabiya - Iranian MP accuses Revolutionary Guards of interfering in election
Reuters - Elections as Iran president grapples with economy
CNN - Anti-Ahmadinejad candidates win big in Iran election