Iran: Who Won In the Assembly Elections?

Following the appointment of hardline cleric Ahmad Jannati as head of Iran’s Assembly of Experts, media outlets loyal to the two rival factions have both been seen claiming victory. Mouthpieces of Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei are speaking of delivering a severe blow to his main adversary, former Iranian president Akbar Rafsanjani. On the other hand, media outlets associated to Rafsanjani are heard reflecting his utmost consent regarding the Assembly’s new board of directors. Which faction did actually emerge victorious?

Both factions have been hitherto claiming victory in the Assembly of Experts ever since the farce elections back in February. The Khamenei faction was able to disqualify thousands of candidates through the Guardian Council – also chaired by the 90-year old Jannati – and block the path of the Rafsanjani faction to obtain a majority in the Assembly.

In the meantime, Rafsanjani has been busy resorting to his own deceptions in announcing his sweeping victory in Tehran’s Assembly elections. Jannati, coming in 16th in Tehran and considered Khamenei’s protégé, was elected as Assembly chair with 51 votes, meaning the remaining members have effectively established a formation against the supreme leader, and through such measures pledged their allegiance and loyalty to Rafsanjani.

ahmad jannati.
Ahmad Jannati

The former Iranian president and chair of the Expediency Council has expressed his consensus regarding the members of the board of directors, and the fact that Khamenei’s main confidant, judiciary chief Amoli Larijani, was not elected into the board.

Of course, if we take into consideration merely the Assembly chair position, we would conclude Khamenei has maintained the upper hand. However, if we take a look at the bigger picture, what comes to light is that fact that the rivalry between the regime’s two factions has dangerously flared. This will certainly have a more intense impact against the entire establishment. Therefore, neither of the two factions have gained a full upper hand, being a chagrin and the worst possible scenario for the entire regime establishment.

The question now is at a time when Jannati just recently described Rafsanjani as one of the devils, why is Rafsanjani expressing his consent of the Assembly’s new board of directors after Jannati was appointed to this position?

In response to a question prior to Jannati’s appointment on whether he would be a candidate himself or not, Rafsanjani responded, “It is not important if I become a candidate or be elected as the chair. The important issue at hand is that I will be there if important matters arise, such as electing a new leader, and this is good.”

From such remarks, one can comprehend that having a majority is the most important matter in Iran’s Assembly of Experts. Unlike the Congress paradigm, the Assembly chair, even described as symbolic, is not a significant role in rendering the will of this or that faction.

Rafsanjani is preemptively investing on the brewing and internecine feuding between the two factions. 34 Assembly members stood against Khamenei during Jannati’s election, and this number can of course increase with the passage of time. This is especially so considering the fact that Khamenei is losing his former hegemony and influence as we speak.

Rafsanjani says the Assembly board of directors is good, considering his close ties with first deputy Hashemi Shahroudi, and ambivalent second deputy Movahedi Kermani is at least not completely against him and was in fact a member of his slate in the recent elections.

More important is the fact that Amoli Larijani, Khamenei’s main devoted acolyte with complete deference, was not appointed as a Jannati deputy and is not seated in the board of directors. This is the status quo that Rafsanjani is praising, hoping to gradually recruit more Assembly members into his inner circle.

By depredating Khamenei’s weakness Rafsanjani will widen and encroach this divide to the point where he will be able to impose his own will onto the Khamenei faction. Therefore, if we take this scene into consideration we come to understand Rafsanjani’s consent. Of course if he could have obtained the Assembly chair he would have been even more elated.

In other words, despite not emerging victorious in the Assembly of Experts power struggle, Rafsanjani is however arguing he has not allowed the Khamenei faction to take control over the entire scene, and as a result he has significantly decreased Khamenei’s sway and power.

Now we must await the results of such a situation where none of the regime’s factions emerge as grand victor of the Assembly elections.

Without a doubt, such a status quo will most definitely render an unprecedented escalation in the power struggle amongst the Tehran top brass. Khamenei himself has described this trend as polarization and the rift spreading further amongst the regime’s senior hierarchy, and eventually across the regime’s entire rank and file.

This is the very fissure that both factions speak of its dangerous implications, yet both sides are seen further deepening the phenomenon. This includes Iranian President Hassan Rouhani once again mentioning what he calls a “referendum” and Rafsanjani media outlets poignantly jumping to the occasion to raise this matter and fan speculation following the Assembly elections.

This is a vivid example of the divide and polarization that will most certainly intensify in the weeks and months to come. The regime will never witness a single serene day in the future.

The actual benefactors of this continuing trend in Iran is neither of the regime’s two rival factions. Their feuds will solidify the unity amongst the Iranian people and their organized opposition under the National Council of Resistance of Iran led by its charismatic President-elect Maryam Rajavi.

As a power struggle grows and results in deeper rifts amongst the mullahs’ regime, the Iranian people are placed ever so much closer to materializing change. As a chain reaction, this also further empowers a democratic alternative of this regime that is seeking true liberties, especially the separation of church and state, and the freedom of women as the pioneer force in the struggle against fundamentalism.

Shahriar Kia

Shahriar Kia is a member of the Iranian opposition (PMOI /MEK). He is a human rights activist and political analyst on Iran and the Middle East.