A session of the Iranian parliament on November 21, 2023

Iran's Parliamentary Election; A Duel Invaded By A Third Party

Wednesday, 11/22/2023

The massive disqualification of candidates for Iran’s March parliamentary elections was the focus of attention, but few paid attention to those who passed through the net.

One notable individual is heavyweight traditional conservative Mohammad Reza Bahonar, whose candidacy in the elections can change Iran's domestic political landscape, at least for the next four months.

While the first round of disqualifications by the interior ministry ensures a reformist-free election, the presence of a seasoned conservative politician with strong credentials, connections to Supreme leader Ali Khamenei, and a background as a seven-term member of parliament and powerful deputy speaker, signals possible trouble for the hardliner camp.

Bahonar’s candidacy could sow discord and chaos among the ultraconservatives whom President Ebrahim Raisi hopes to send to the next parliament to ensure another easy four years for him as the President. Raisi's big man to lead his list of candidates is hardline cleric Morteza Aqa Tehrani, the former Imam of the Iranian mosque in New York and the former leader of ultraconservative Paydari Party.

Politician Mohammad Reza Bahonar

However, there are others who aspire to send their representatives, including a few women, to the parliament. Incumbent parliamentary Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf is among those with such intentions. He aims to dispatch a team of technocrats to the Majles, leading as a candidate himself.

As if the competition wasn't challenging enough for Raisi and Ghalibaf, Mohammad Reza Bahonar has entered the scene—a political leader who oversees at least two major conservative groups: The Islamic Association of Engineers and the Front of Followers of Khomeini and Khamenei, showcasing clear signs of influence over both organizations. His entourage destined for the next parliament comprises a cadre of traditional pragmatist conservatives.

A Tehran-based website has described the situation as "a blessing in disguise for Ghalibaf." Unable to compete with Raisi and Aqa Tehrani's ultraconservative thugs, Qalibaf can ensure a better standing for himself only if he can convince Bahonar to join hands with him and his neo-cons. That is what Ghalibaf likes to call his team a fashionable term which also suggests a more modern outlook.

Khabar Online went on to portray the state of Iran's upcoming parliamentary elections in the Tehran Bazaar's slang as "transitioning from a private joint-stock to a public joint-stock company."

However, this description cautiously sidestepped two key considerations. First, since 2005, it has been Supreme Leader Khamenei and the surrounding civilian and military circle, not the voters, who have determined the outcome of every election in Iran. Second, there is a broad consensus among various political figures that not only will this be a low-turnout election, but the current government and the controlling ultraconservatives are not inclined toward a high-turnout election.

As the leader of centrist Executives of Construction Party Hossein Marashi said in his party's mouthpiece, Sazandegi newspaper last week that "the government's strategy about the elections has changed from one of maximum political participation to limited participation with predetermined results." Marashi put it rather bluntly. "This is not a competition between reformists and conservatives. It is an election to choose either Raisi or Ghalibaf."

Even before Bahonar's entry the rivalry between the Iranian President and Parliamentary Speaker was said to be fierce. As Raisi is beginning to perceive a possible alliance between Bahonar and Ghalibaf as an unexpected threat, his reaction can come as a surprise.

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