Iran’s Elections Unlikely to Matter Much

Decisions in the country are made by a cabal who care little about its elected institutions.

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani votes in parliamentary elections, February 26
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani votes in parliamentary elections, February 26 (Presidency of Iran)

Elections in Iran on Friday are unlikely to have a big impact on how the Islamic country is governed.

Iranians are choosing both a new parliament and members for the Assembly of Experts, a clerical body that appoints the supreme leader.

But hundreds of reformist candidates have been barred from running, ensuring that conservative lawmakers will keep their majority, while the assembly is really toothless.

Indeed, neither of the two institutions has much power, argues the Council on Foreign Relations’ Ray Takeyh.

Parliament is unlikely to act with much decisiveness, he writes, while the Assembly of Experts will probably not choose the next leader but rather rubber stamp a selection made by others.


President Hassan Rouhani, who won the election in 2013 on a promise to lift sanctions through rapprochement with the West and revitalize the economy, is considered something of a modernizer. Yet he has faced little opposition from reactionaries in parliament due to a close collaboration with its powerful speaker, Ali Larijani.

“Although a conservative himself, Larijani is very much a man of the system who is interested in the government functioning smoothly,” argues Takeyh.

The Rouhani-Larijani partnership has ensured that the firebrands in the parliament do not interfere with the executive branch’s agenda.

A conservative parliament may prove cantankerous, Takeyh admits, but it will largely remain compliant.

The Assembly of Experts, for its part, will occasionally meet but continue to play a ceremonial role.

There is a cabal

Decisions in the country are really made by a small group of people, including Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, Larijani and Rouhani. As in most authoritarian states, institutions can always be circumvented by personal relationships.

There are no real reformers anywhere close to power in Iran. Even pragmatists, like former presidents Mohammad Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, have been sidelined in recent years.

On major policy issues, including Iran’s support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and its ties with the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, there are no major disagreements within the regime.

The elections on Friday are unlikely to change any of that.

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