Moderates are back in Iran

Moderates are back in Iran

The politics of moderation is on the ascendance in Iran. In elections last week, reformists and moderate politicians made significant gains to win seats to Parliament and the Assembly of Elders. Reformists surged ahead in the electoral race to win 85 seats, while moderate conservatives secured 73. Hardliners trailed behind them with just 68 seats, down from 112 they held in the current Parliament. While no bloc will dominate Parliament on their own, the reformists and moderate conservatives will join hands to form the government. Three years ago, the reformist Hassan Rouhani was elected president. The recent reformist-moderate victory will take further the gains made through that historic election. Rouhani’s signing of the nuclear deal, which paved the way for the lifting of economic sanctions on Iran, appears to have played a major role in his supporters doing well electorally. Reformists and moderate conservatives supported the nuclear deal, and their victory is a vote of confidence in Rouhani’s leadership and an endorsement of his engaging the world. It will encourage the Iranian president to accelerate economic reforms. This will be facilitated by the defeat of leading conservative legislators who had opposed his oil and gas contracts to attract investment.

However, the road ahead for Iran’s new reformist-moderate conservative government will not be easy. The hardliners can be expected to adopt even more rigid positions in the coming months. As they remain in firm control of key institutions such as the judiciary and the security forces, they can be expected to be obstructive, even push Rouhani to adopt a tough line on foreign policy, for instance. They are likely to fiercely counter any attempt by the new government to engage Saudi Arabia in dialogue. On the domestic front, with the reformists sweeping urban constituencies especially in Teheran and the hardliners consolidating their grip over rural areas, new conflicts could emerge along urban rural lines. On the social front, those expecting the new government to usher in social reforms are likely to be disappointed. Several of the reformists who won are socially conservative and cautious politicians. Rouhani must act to expand the personal freedoms of the Iranian people. This will be a risky step, although any initiative in this regard will find support in the cities.

The Iranian Parliament’s shift to the centre is good news. But will this shift last? And importantly, will the new government survive? The reformists and the moderate conservatives set aside their differences to oust the hardliners. They will have to remain united to keep the hardliners at bay.

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