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Divided, Iranian conservatives still dominate in run-up to elections

Text by Amara MAKHOUL

Latest update : 2012-02-24

Iran goes to the polls on March 2, in the country’s first legislative elections since 2009. Even though the conservative camp dominates against a weak reformist opposition, it is undermined by internal divisions of its own.

 

Campaigning for Iran’s March 2 legislative elections began on Thursday, with state media calling for a big turnout to thwart “enemy threats” against the regime.
 
There are some 48 million eligible voters in Iran, who will be asked to choose 290 members of parliament from some 3,444 candidates.
 
The elections are taking place as an increasingly isolated Iran suffers the effects of US and EU economic sanctions over its controversial nuclear programme.
 
The country’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also under pressure. At the beginning of February he was summoned by lawmakers to answer questions over his management of the country’s economy, a first since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
 
The elections are also the first public poll since Ahmadinejad’s re-election in 2009, a vote overshadowed by public demonstrations and a wave of anger against the government that lasted for eight months.
 
And while state media is calling for a big turnout in the March election, the opposition is split, with some calling for a boycott in protest at the political repression it has suffered at the hands of the regime over the last three years.
 
Thierry Coville, Iran specialist at the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Relations (IRIS), explained that the “green camp” was a “victim of internal divisions.”
 
Former reformist President Mohammad Khatami has decided not to stand for election, while his conservative predecessor Akbar Hachemi Rafsandjani, who is out of favour with the regime, has given implicit support to the reformist candidates by receiving their movements' delegations.
 
Some small reformist parties are nevertheless present on the candidate lists, both in Tehran and throughout the country, where they hope to maintain their presence in the Majlis, the country’s parliament, where they currently hold some 60 of the 290 seats.
 
And if the opposition is suffering from divisions, so is the conservative camp. The majority of the 3,444 candidates battling for the 290 seats in the Majlis are to a greater or lesser degree conservative, but are split into a number of competing coalitions.
 
“While Ahmadinejad continues to push forward with his policies he is still under heavy criticism because of the state of the economy, even among regime supporters,” said Coville.
 
“The main issue in this election is going to be the battle between the rival conservative camps, on one side those who support Ahmadinejad, and on the other those who are closer to Supreme Leader Ali Khameni.”
 
The main faction opposing Ahamdinejad is the United Front of Conservatives, which wants to see greater “rationalism” in Iranian politics.
 
This coalition is set against the equally conservative Front of the Islamic Revolution's Endurance (FIRE), which supports Ahmadinejad while at the same time remains highly critical of his chief of staff Esfandiar Rahmin Mashaie, whom FIRE distrust for his support of an open and nationalist vision of Islam.
 
So, while the election is likely to produce a conservative government, the form it will take is difficult to predict.
 
Thierry Coville believes that despite calls for a high turnout, some form of silent protest will undermine the legitimacy of the elections.
 
“The political and social context is very different from that in 2009,” he said. “There won’t be the same level of anti-government demonstrations.”

 

Date created : 2012-02-24

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