Former Presidents Mohammad Khatami (R) and Hassan Rouhani during an election campaign

Iran's ‘Moderates’ Planning A Political Comeback?

Friday, 02/04/2022

Two reformist newspapers in Iran have reported that a new “reformist” alliance is growing among politicians opposed to hardliners in charge of the government.

Both newspapers used the term "reformist" in a broad sense that covers moderate conservatives such as former President Hassan Rouhani and former Majles Speaker Ali Larijani.

The two reports published on the same day as frontpage stories can be a coincidence or intended to tell the public that the move is a serious coordinated attempt by the right-of-center politicians.

Aftab-e Yazd, a left-of-center newspaper, quoted reformist figures as saying that politicians including Rouhani, Larijani, former president Mohammad Khatami, former deputy Majles speaker Mohammad Javad Bahonar, Ayatollah Khomeini's grandson Hassan Khomeini, and former Majles Speaker and presidential candidate Ali Akbar Nategh-Nouri have been meeting regularly to forge a block against the ruling ultra-conservatives.

The daily quoted political activists as having said that the group is planning to form a shadow government by lending a new momentum to its political moves.

An old photo of Khatami (L), Nategh-Nouri and Rouhani

Early signs of a political move in the offing emerged in mid-January when reports said that the two former presidents had held a meeting with some of the same figures, who have been marginalized by supporters of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Some of those taking part in these meetings, including, Rouhani, Larijani, and Nategh-Nouri are however best characterized as moderate conservatives, Aftab Yazd reminded, adding that there will be more of these meetings in the coming months.

Sharq daily, which reported the same development, added former Vice President Es'haq Jahangiri to the list, giving more weight to the Executives of Construction Party. Sharq quoted a member of the same party, Alizadeh Tabatabai as saying that the group plans to revive the embattled ‘republican’ attribute of the Islamic Republic which has been badly damaged because of the Guardian Council's meddling with the process of elections, particularly in the June 2021 presidential vote, when many complained that the election election was clear months before voting took place.

Tabatabai added that it is in the nature of political parties to form a shadow government in a bid to facilitate their return to power. The lawyer's comment is contrary to what happened in 2020 and 2021 when the Guardian Council barred nearly all reformist candidates from running for the parliament or presidency. At that time, reformist parties effectively distanced themselves from the elections to highlight the discrimination against them.

Others told Sharq and Aftab Yazd that ‘moderates’ are planning to unseat the current predominantly ultra-conservative government through democratic process and make a political comeback in the next parliamentary and presidential elections.

Aftab Yazd argued that every one of these political figures have had an influential role in the Islamic Republic at one time or another. This of course does not apply to Khomeini's grandson who has never had a political role and never competed in any election to assess his political weight.

Reformist activist Jalal Jalalizadeh told Aftab Yazd: "After 43 years, reformist figures have realized their mistakes and now they are getting together to make up for those mistakes. This will be useless if it is only a political gesture. But their move would be welcomed if they plan to stop the revolution's deviation and encourage the current government to solve the country's problems."

Sharq apparently doubts the effectiveness of a shadow government as it has concluded its report by pointing out that: "We must see how far such a shadow government can further the frontiers of criticism and questioning [of the current government's policies]."

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