Sunday, May 29, 2016

Hardline Assembly of Experts Chair and Conservative Majles Speaker Selected

As expected, a hardliner and a conservative were selected to head both Iranian governmental bodies "elected" a few months back.

The leading vote getters in both elections ended up not being selected to head either the Assembly of Experts (Rafsanjani) or the Majles (Aref). The individual who was selected to lead the Assembly of Experts for the next 2 years (of the 8 year term) was in fact the last place finisher in Tehran.

The "loss" by the "moderates" in both of these decisions was not surprising for a many reasons. The elections were rigged from the beginning, with thousands of candidates disqualified, in particular those with views less in line with the regime. Additionally, as I and others have noted, the "moderate" list was in fact not as moderate as the pro-Iran lobby, and portions of the left in the United States trying to sell the Iran Deal have claimed.

With significant overlap between the "Principalists" and this "moderate" "List of Hope", it was only natural for the more hardline members of the "moderate" list to vote for the hardliners.

This complexity has gone way over many pundits heads here in the West. As the usual suspects point to the hardline victory as proof that there are no moderates (and of course no liberals) in Iran, the reality remains more complex. Again, they miss the greater point, that the elections had to be fixed to undermine genuine attempts from the population to move towards the West and the rest of the international community. The scale of this ideological schism may not be large, and many of the people pushing for change may approve of Iran's unending support for terror groups throughout the region, but the attempts to move away from the anti-Western ideologues must not be ignored.

Each time there is a political event where the hardliners do not win outright, the system, the regime, the deep state is put under pressure. This pressure forces a decision out of the regime; to allow an opening, or to crack down, and repress the population. Either way resources are expended, and the system becomes more unstable. However limited it may be, this instability at home undermines Iran's ability to conduct operations abroad; more attention must be given to preventing civil unrest.

Iran has a choice: to fully embrace autocracy like China, or to reform. They had previously mentioned attempts to create a "halal" internet, so that only sites that were deemed appropriate would be available in Iran. This failed. The real question is how far apart the Iranian public and the regime will drift, and how, when and if this will happen.

It is very difficult to measure the ideological bent of the population. The previous election for the Majles (2012) was boycott by the Reformist bloc so they only received a few seats. The election prior (2008) the "Reformists" had under 20% of the vote. Principalists have controlled the Majles since the 2004 election when they forced the heavily disqualified Reformist majority to the sidelines.

That there are so many members who are not Principalists is encouraging, but doesn't mean too much in the grand scheme of things. The greater system of control by the regime and deep state remains intact, and the Majles will continue to be more or less powerless as it has been for decades. The wins by hardline candidates are important in showing that anti-Westernism is still a fundamental value of the state, but the turnout for those with a different point of view should be encouraging to the West. The situation continues to be multi-faceted and fluid.