The 55 outstanding seats are those for which no candidate received the requisite minimum percentage of the vote. The so-called moderate-reformist faction, or List of Hope, was fielding 58 candidates in the runoff on Friday, and the Associated Press indicated that 40 of them would need to win their seats for that faction to effectively take control of the parliament.
Another AP report indicated that the tensions in the race were running so high that some supporters of hardline figures such as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had clashed with supporters of the Rouhani faction. At least one such incident escalated to involve a shooting in which four people were wounded.
The AP suggested that such violence was indicative of the high stakes in the conclusion to this year’s parliamentary campaign. At the time of the regular vote and again this week, the supreme leader publicly urged supporters to turn out in large numbers, apparently both to hold back victories for the alternative faction and to give the perception of legitimacy in the Iranian electoral process.
However, also during both the regular and runoff elections, that legitimacy had been widely disputed by some Iranian citizens and by opponents of the Iranian regime. The turnout for the first round of elections was reported as 62 percent, which is comparatively high by the standards of previous Iranian national elections. However, many pro-reform Iranians were quoted in the international media as saying that they would boycott the election, in protest either against the lack of fairness in the electoral process or against the absence of “true” reformists on the ballot.
Rouhani himself has been described as a reformist by some international media and some Western policymakers, but this characterization has been hotly debated, with opposition groups such as the National Council of Resistance of Iran pointing to his career as a regime inside and his three-year record as president to support the notion that his faction does not significantly differ from the views of conservatives and hardliners.
Rouhani’s supporters and foreign advocates claim that a resounding victory in the runoffs could give the president the support that he need to implement neglected campaign promises. Others feel that the lack of progress on any of the promises other than the conclusion of a nuclear agreement with the international community is indicative of an essential lack of interest in actually following through on actual reforms.
There is also some question about whether the potential makeup of the incoming parliament, which starts work in May, could actually reflect reformist attitudes.
Prior to the first round of elections, it was widely reported that the Guardian Council, which is tasked with vetting all parliamentary legislation and all candidates to high office, had disqualified the vast majority of reformist candidates. In one case, a female reformist was cleared to stand for election, but her seat was later vacated after she had won it in February.
Subsequent to the mass disqualifications, some reformists objected that the List of Hope had been formed by creating partnerships among moderates and conservatives, thereby effectively betraying truly moderate or reformist policy positions. Thus, contrary to how the runoff elections have been portrayed by the Associated Press and other media outlets, these critics do not view them as a genuine battle for ideological control over the parliament.
The NCRI and other staunch critics of the Iranian regime are convinced that the difference between the Rouhani and Khamenei factions is only one of tactics on issues like the country’s nuclear program, and not a difference of underlying strategy.
But even assuming genuine reformist intent on Rouhani’s part, it is difficult to see how even complete victory in the runoff elections could lead to associated outcomes. That is to say, the unchecked power of the supreme leader and the Guardian Council will almost certainly continue to block legislation that is perceived to betray the regime’s anti-Western, Islamist identity.