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ANALYSIS: Iran’s conservatives stay in power – but not necessarily behind Ahmadinejad

17 March 2008 

Tehran (dpa) – The conservatives gained a landslide victory in Iran’s parliamentary elections and secured themselves more than 70% of the votes.

In Tehran, too – politically the most important constituency – the conservatives gained a majority.

Also in the second round of the elections, for all those not having reached the 25% level, the conservatives were widely expected to win again.

But observers believe the victory does not necessarily mean the political status quo in parliament will stay as before or that, specifically, all of the conservatives will be 100% be behind President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

One of the conservatives who would certainly not follow the presidential line is Ali Larijani, who gained a landslide victory in the religious city of Qom, a pilgrimage venue 130km south of Iran and stronghold of the country’s clergy.

Larijani belongs to those conservatives known as "revisionists" who used to be behind Ahmadinejad at the beginning of his presidency in August 2005, but gradually distanced themselves.

Following grave differences with Ahmadinejad, Larijani resigned last October as chief nuclear negotiator. Besides the president’s uncompromising nuclear policies, he also had a critical approach to his economic policies which have boosted inflation to a minimum of 20, a maximum of 30 and – in real estate – even 70%.
How many of the elected conservatives belong to the revisionist group, especially in the provinces, is not yet clear. This will gradually become apparent in the new legislative period.

"The results of the elections should not lead to any arrogance (among the conservatives)," Larijani warned. "I predict that the new legislative period will be much more effective than the current one, and give priority to national interests."

Reformists close to former president Mohammad Khatami had, right from the beginning, no chance. More than half of their top candidates were disqualified by the hard-line senate-like Guardian Council for lack of loyalty to the Islamic system.

They even failed to reach their aim of at least 30% of the votes, reportedly gaining only around a quarter.

"Considering the circumstances, our achievement should still be assessed as a remarkable success," said reformist camp speaker Abdollah Nasseri.

Although the reformists can hardly influence future legislative decisions, they will at least have a public platform after many years out of political business.

Former vice-president Mohammad-Ali Abtahi, a close aid of Khatami, had hoped before the elections to gain victory with the votes of the "silent majority." The silent majority did neither Abtahi nor Khatami this favour.

Forty per cent nationwide and 60% in Tehran stayed home, partly to prepare for the new Persian New Year on March 21 and partly to voice their protest against the whole ruling system.

"We do not intend to have any dispute (with Ahmadinejad), but we will not blindly approve all governmental decisions, either," said parliament speaker Gholam-Ali Hadad-Adel, who was re-elected with an absolute majority in his Tehran constituency.

The critical approach of the speaker and his faction members, focused on Ahmadinejad’s economic policies, is expected by observers to increase rather then decrease in the new legislative period.

The political impact of the parliament is, however, rather limited, especially in the nuclear dispute, which is classified as state matter and decided at the highest level.

"The results of the elections are no guarantee for Ahmadinejad’s re-election next year," a foreign diplomat in Tehran said.

In addition to Khatami, there could be challenges from Larijani and Hadad-Adel to Ahmadinejad in the presidential elections scheduled for June next year.

Despite his heroic rhetoric, an international isolation of Iran over the nuclear dispute or Middle East policies could not only politically but also economically jeopardize Ahmadinejad’s re- election

"The whole country hopes to see Mr. Khatami next year as rival candidate (against Ahmadinejad)," said reformist Majid Ansari.

At least one thing is sure: the Guardian Council would not be able to disqualify Khatami like it did in case of the reformist candidates.

[Copyright dpa 2008]