Iranians want change through the ballot box

Regardless of who runs the government or enters parliament, a sense of stability is what Iranians are looking for.

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
Rafsanjani's victory in the Assembly of Experts was crucial to forming the kind of coalition he is looking for, writes Entekhabifard [AP]

The Islamic Republic of Iran has held many elections in its 37-year history. Some of the elections opened the doors to reform while others slammed shut those doors in favour of ultra-conservatives.

From the moment when Mohammad Khatami was elected president in 1997 that brought reformists to power, to the rise of conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005, it was clear that each election could mark a dramatic shift forward or backward.

The latest elections on February 26 – both for parliament and the Assembly of Experts – once again polarised the nation, but not in the way the 2009 presidential election had.

People opted for rationality and moderation, avoiding any provocative actions, which helped moderate candidates win the elections.

Moving towards stability?

Are the results of the two elections an indication that Iran is moving towards stability? After all, regardless of who runs the government or enters parliament, a sense of stability and peace is what Iranians are looking for.

The Guardian Council, the most influential body in Iran, vetted the candidates and disqualified many popular reformist candidates. These disqualifications did not disappoint the public enough to get them to boycott the elections as some pundits had expected.

READ MORE: After elections, Iranian women’s demands are forgotten

Instead, the participation of around 60 percent of eligible voters, according to the interior ministry, was a testament to the public’s desire to express their will through the ballot box.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani [AP]
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani [AP]

The higher-than-expected turnout rate was essentially a carte blanche given to President Hassan Rouhani for public satisfaction with the way the nuclear file was handled.

The slight improvement in the country’s economy was another reason the public responded to Rouhani’s call to vote.

For voters, the parliamentary election was more important than the election of the Assembly of Experts since Iran’s parliament is mainly in charge of internal policy.

The election of the Assembly of Experts at this time matters more to political leaders, not least Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Assembly, elected every eight years, is the body tasked with choosing the Supreme Leader – a lifelong post – and monitoring his leadership.

Rumours of bad health

In the midst of rumours over the deteriorating health of Khamenei, who is nearly 77, this assembly may play a historic role by choosing the next Supreme Leader.

No matter who is Iran’s president and what parliament it has, constitutionally, the Supreme Leader has power above all institutions. Whether the next Supreme Leader will be chosen with public support or military support, he will be the one outlining Iran’s future.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei [AP]
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei [AP]

The mass disqualifications of well-known reformers – or candidates close to reformers – speak of Khamenei’s wish to keep the conservatives in power. Khamenei and his supporters among the political elite in Qom and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) oppose any significant changes to the system.

The IRGC took action against the demonstrators, who, in 2009, protested against the election outcome. Several people were killed, activists were arrested en masse, and opposition leaders were placed under house arrest.

Understanding Iran’s political developments is not always easy.

Not only Iranians, but many in the region have been closely observing this year’s elections. From the Arab point of view, it is not important whether the reformers or hardliners control the parliament. For them, a stable nation and a friendly government with whom they can communicate are important.

Neighbours know that the Supreme Leader is the main indicator of Iran’s foreign policy, and, of course, they have an interest in which kind of leader succeeds Khamenei.

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A parliament that supports Rouhani’s social and economic reforms is the president’s major interest in this election. Iran’s next Supreme Leader is a matter of concern not only for Arab neighbours, but also for the international community.

When Khamenei became the Supreme Leader in June 1989, he provided enormous opportunities for the IRGC as his major base supporters. The next Supreme Leader – aside from his importance for Iran’s hierarchy – will also affect the IRGC and its future.

With these twin elections, Iran is walking towards an historic point in the life of its revolution.


Some, like former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, predicted the street clashes between the regime forces and people back in 2009. In an address in 2009, Rafsanjani had spoken of seeing smoke from a faraway fire. He was correct in his prediction, and for months, the country was in a state of emergency.

The militarisation of the republic

Today, he is seeing something else in the sky, and it is the threat posed by IRGC against the republic and democracy. 

A revolutionary veteran with political acumen, Rafsanjani used his influence to avoid such a destiny.

A strong Assembly of Experts may save the nation from any military takeover if Khamenei dies during the next term.

One figure whose popularity appears to be slowly but steadily growing is Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, currently the head of the judiciary. A man who has proven his ability to crush the opposition and is close to Khamenei, Larijani is touted as the IRGC’s favourite as the next Supreme Leader.


What concerns people such as Rafsanjani is the militarisation of the republic in the absence of the current leader and the interference of IRGC in politics.

To avert such a threat, Rafsanjani’s victory in the Assembly of Experts was crucial to forming the kind of coalition he is looking for.

And of course, a moderate and independent parliament that can stand for the people – in case it becomes necessary – is precious when history is being made. With these twin elections, Iran is walking towards a historic point in the life of its revolution.

Camelia Entekhabifard is an Iranian journalist, TV commentator and author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth – a Memoir of Iran.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.