National Iranian American Council president Trita Parsi says it’s s no longer reformists versus conservatives as much as it is moderates with President Rouhani, and his opponents
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Iran held elections last Friday to select members of its 290-seat parliament, and the clerical assembly of experts. Early results show that Iranian president Hassan Rouhani won a strong vote of confidence, and his supporters secured surprising gains in parliament. For example, they won all of Tehran’s 30 seats. It is reported that reformists may have also won 15 of the 16 assembly of experts. They’re primarily responsible for pointing and advising the Ayatollah, the Supreme Leader. If the political leanings of the new members of parliament are, indeed, moderate, these gains could speed up the Islamic Republic’s emergence from years of isolation. Joining us now to discuss all of this is Trita Parsi. Trita is a scholar, an author, and the founder and president of the National Iranian American Council. In 2010 he was the recipient of the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. Trita, thank you so much for joining us today. TRITA PARSI: Thank you for having me. PERIES: Trita, many are calling these results a blow to the hardliners, and that this will introduce a more political, rational parliament in support of the government and Rouhani in particular. Your thoughts on that? PARSI: It certainly is a setback for the hardliners. The final, final results are not out. But everything we see so far indicates that the hardliners have been dealt a heavy blow. And it’s not just about the numbers, it’s also about who has been voted out. We have individuals like Haddad Adel, who used to be the speaker of the parliament, who’s a conservative, who is no longer in parliament because he actually was voted out. He did not manage to get enough votes to be able to be on the list. You have individuals in the assembly of experts who play a very important role, or a crucial role, when it comes to selecting the next Supreme Leader, in which the current very hardline chairman of the assembly actually did not manage to get reelected. So the key individuals that have been voted out, in and of itself, are very, very important in addition to the numbers of moderates that have come in. PERIES: So give us a sense of who is back in that you think will lead this reformist movement. PARSI: Well, it’s not about reformists at this point. I think it’s important to understand that there’s new faultlines in Iranian politics. You have people who actually were conservatives, and for a long time have been very, very conservative, who are now on the moderate side because they’re in favor of the Rouhani agenda, the platform. And these people are now in a new, loose coalition together with people who used to be reformists, or are still considered reformists, and people who are centrists. So it’s no longer reformists versus conservatives as much as it is moderates with Rouhani, and those who are essentially against what he’s trying to do at this point. PERIES: Give us some examples of who you are thinking is aligned with Rouhani here. PARSI: Well, for instance, Ali Larijani, who is the current head of the parliament, is a conservative. And he’s been a conservative for a very long time, belongs to a very conservative and well-established family. But he has aligned himself with Rouhani most of the time on most issues. And he’s not considered right now to be in the anti-Rouhani camp. PERIES: All right. And then in terms of the results, Trita, this is a real blow to the hardliners. So who turned out to vote that made this turn around? PARSI: Well, it’s clear that the turnout was very high in the cities in Tehran in particular. In Tehran the conservatives did not manage to get a single seat from the number of seats that they get out of that city. So the young people, the urbanites, have voted–it seems, actually, that of the lower classes there may have been a lower turnout than would have been in the past. And that’s also an interesting point, and perhaps a bit surprising, because they usually have a very strong voter participation. And what this ultimately does, it doesn’t end the efforts by conservatives to undermine the efforts to be able to open up Iran or to improve relations with the rest of the world. But it has established a new balance of power inside Iran’s internal politics. And that is going to make it easier for the Rouhani government to move forward with certain economic reforms. And I think it’s also going to make it more difficult for the Rouhani government to make the argument that they cannot address the civil and the human rights situation inside the country. There is going to be growing demand that there has to be improvements in those areas as well, and that Rouhani now is in a position to be able to address it. PERIES: And do you think that is because of the younger participation in the elections, and of course the former Green movement? PARSI: Well, it is because of the fact that now he doesn’t have a parliament that is an obstructionist parliament, that is trying to put a stop to everything he’s trying to do. There is a new balance of power, which gives him greater manoeuverability. But it also means that expectations are going to grow on what needs to do. PERIES: Then of course the implications on the nuclear agreement with P5+1, you think there will be more expediency in terms of moving ahead with it? PARSI: Well, actually it’s been moving faster than what most folks in the West thought it could, and I don’t think there’s necessarily a need to move forward very fast. But there is a very strong endorsement by the population that they are in line with this deal, and what it means, what the direction of Iran is going to be. So it’s the first time after the nuclear [agreement] that there is a major election. And those that favored the deal have done quite well. And some of those who really staked their candidacy on opposing the deal have actually ended up being unelected. PERIES: Now, Trita, there’s a lot of speculation around the health and wellbeing of Khomeini, the Supreme Leader, and that this new council of experts will actually be responsible for appointing a new one if anything fatal happens to the Supreme Leader. Your thoughts on that? PARSI: Yes, so I mean obviously, Iranian officials rarely like to talk about the health of the Supreme Leader. But their behavior makes it very clear that they are expecting that those people who now got elected to the assembly of experts and who will serve for eight years will most likely be those ones who will elect the next Supreme Leader. So the election for the assembly of experts this time was a very important one, and it was on everyone’s mind. And it’s going to be very interesting to see what happens there. But signs so far has been it is not at all as conservatively leaning as it was before, and that there are a lot of folks that are independents, a lot of undecided, or folks that are, you know, on all sides of this issue, but also a very strong presence by those who favor the approach that Rouhani is taking. So it’s making the, the succession that will take place at some point is going to be very, very interesting with this assembly of experts. PERIES: All right. We’ll be looking forward to further reports from you, Trita. Thank you so much for joining us. PARSI: Thank you for having me. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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