Out With The Hardliners, In With The Reformists: Elections In Iran

This article can also be found at Tremr.

Sixty percent of eligible voters in Iran turned up to vote in Friday’s elections, reported CNN. Votes were cast for Parliament and the Assembly of Experts – the committee of clerics that chooses the Supreme Leader, Iran’s most powerful official. The elections are the first since last year’s nuclear deal and will prove to be an important test for current President Hassan Rouhani, who will seek re-election next year. Rouhani, a moderate, facilitated in the signing of the nuclear deal in exchange for the lifting of sanctions on Iran, which decimated the nation’s economy for years.

Rouhani has stated that unemployment and the recession are Iran’s primary problems. He is largely favored among the Iranian youth, who make up 60% of the population. Youth unemployment is currently hovering at an alarming 25%.

Conservative hardliners presently dominate the 290-seat Parliament, but moderates have made a strong showing in the elections, gaining the entirety of the 30-seat delegation, which represents the capital of Tehran. Moderates also made progress in the election for the Assembly of Experts, which ultimately carries more influence on politics than Parliament.

Tensions between moderates and hardliners have heightened since the signing of the nuclear deal last year. Moderates desire better relations with the outside world and more foreign investment, which they say will create jobs for young people. Hardliners reject this notion, claiming instead that economic growth comes from domestic production.

The elections have been seen as a potential turning point for Iran, as they will determine the direction the nation is heading in years to come. Reza Marashi, research director at the National Iranian American Council, stated that “Rouhani and his coalition have been saying that the nuclear deal was the first step to economic and political dignity, and that these elections were the next step.” Many even consider the elections to be the “most important non-presidential race since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.” Should hardliners be elected, diplomatic and economic progress will likely stall.

Iranians are eager to engage with the world in light of the severe recession and the damage that has resulted from ten years of sanctions.

The lifting of sanctions has already had positive impacts on the Iranian economy, and will likely bring huge improvements for Iranian citizens in the future. The market potential is emerging rapidly as Western investors are beginning to return to Iran. With a population of 75 million – the largest in the Middle East – it is not unlikely that global businesses will jump at the opportunity to do business with Iran in the near future. The nation is seen as a huge global marketing opportunity, as it has the world’s second-largest gas reserves and a well-educated workforce.

Although the prospects look promising for the Iranian people, the full effects of sanctions relief will likely take time to reach their full effect, as so far “few tangible gains have trickled down to ordinary people.” Other sanctions for human rights and terrorism remain in place, and various American politicians have urged further sanctions on the Iranian government due to the existence of a ballistic missile program.

Although the journey is clearly not over for Rouhani, the moderates’ victories in the elections are a big step toward progress in a nation that was dominated by religious hardliners and a glaciated economy for years.

Photo courtesy of IBTimes

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