Results from Iranian parliamentary and assembly elections held over the weekend have not yet been finalised, however what we know so far is encouraging.
First of all, turnout is an important indicator of popular legitimacy. Presidential elections normally see a much greater turnout than parliamentary ones in Iran, but this election also featured the Assembly of Experts. So a turnout of around 62% of voters nationwide (50% in Tehran) for this type of election can be considered a strong one.
Second, the results reinforced the wider phenomenon of commercial and political capitals, such as Tehran, not being representative of the country as a whole. There was without doubt a very strong showing for moderates in Tehran, with all 30 parliamentary seats going to allies of President Hassan Rouhani. Some 15 of the 16 Assembly seats allocated to Tehran also went to moderates. But in Iran, like nearly all countries, there is a political divide between urban and rural areas. Those who study Iran understand that Tehran can be something of a mini political ecosystem, separate from the rest of the country.
Third, this is not so much an affirmation of reformists as a rejection of conservatives. The widespread culling of most reformists and many conservatives by the Council of Guardians prior to the election meant that there was a limited ideological range of candidates from which to choose. Despite this, conservatives suffered significant losses at the ballot box. This is a vote of confidence by the public in the policies of President Rouhani, whose negotiation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (also known as the Iran deal) last July saw him deliver on the main electoral promise made in his presidential campaign. The expectation is that he will have greater freedom of action to pass legislation to address the chronic unemployment and inflation from which Iran suffers. However, while there are more moderates than conservatives confirmed in parliament, there are also many independents, though we won't know the final numbers for some time. In more than 20% of seats, no candidate achieved the minimum 25% of the vote necessary to win so runoff elections will be held. This means that the true character of the parliament may not be known until May.
Even theocratic systems of government require popular legitimacy to survive and the mood of the electorate will certainly have been noted by the Supreme Leader and the conservative factions in Iran. How both of them react to the electoral result, as well as how parliament forms, will determine how much progress moderates can make in shifting the tone and policies of the Iranian government. It could be the change in the composition of the Assembly of Experts may, in retrospect, come to be viewed as more significant in the long term than the change in parliament.
Photo courtesy of United Nations