Conservatives Running Against Conservatives
By Nader Uskowi
There is a different feel and atmosphere surrounding the upcoming parliamentary elections set for 2 March. The reformists are not running, rather they are not allowed to run; with Green movement leaders and activists in prison, under house arrest, or disqualified to run. That leaves the conservatives to run against conservatives, a boring but a safe election for the ruling clerical establishment. I probably spoke too soon; this election might not be as safe for the establishment as it seems at the first glance – they are being challenged from within their own ranks.
The conservatives are bitterly divided into two major camps. The traditional conservatives that form the core of the country’s current establishment are organized under the banner of “United Principlist Front” (UPF), and led by people like Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani, the chairman of the Assembly of Experts.
The other camp brings together the more radical fundamentalists organized under the banner of “Resistance Front” (RF) led by Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi.
Curiously, it is not the political platforms of the UPF and RF that are at the center of discourse in the country these days, but the degree of closeness of each of the conservative factions to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamene. It sounds odd, but Khamanie holds many powerful positions: Supreme Leader, Vali Faghih (Guardian of Islamic Jurisprudence), Marja Taghlid (Guide of the Shias), Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, Representative of the Shia’s Hidden Imam… Elections in countries with totalitarian characteristics are by nature full of oddities and ironies.
Mesbah Yazdi’s Resistance Front claims they have the support of Khamenei. Mesbah has brought together the former supporters of President Ahmadinejad who had parted ways with him after Ahmadinejad famously sat home for more than ten days last year in an ultimate show of defiance against Khamenei who had reinstated the minister of intelligence after being fired by Ahmadinejad. These former Ahmadinejad supporters also have strong objection to Ahmadinejad's selection and retaining of Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie as his chief of staff and political confidant. They consider Mashaie as the leader of the “deviationist” movement, for espousing unorthodox policies. Among the more famous members of the RF are Morteza Agha Tehrani, Rohollah Hosseinian, Hamid Rasaie, Mehdi Kouchakzadeh, Ali Asghar Zaraie, and Fatemeh Alia, all members of the “Islamic Revolution Faction” in the current Majlis.
Mahdavi Kani’s UPF comprises of many old guards, including the Majlis leaders Ali Larijani and Mohammad Reza Bahonar and former foreign minister Manuchehr Mottaki (who was fired by Ahmadinejad while he was on an official tour of African countries.)
This is not to argue that all conservative politicians in today’s Iran neatly fall into one or the other grouping. For example, both the UPF and RF claim that the influential former foreign minister and now foreign policy advisor to the supreme leader, Ali Akbar Velayati, is on their side.
There are also three other less prominent groupings. Mashie Faction (“deviationists”); a handful of reformists who had supported the Green Movement of 2009 and who are not imprisoned or under house arrest or disbarred from political activities; and those dubbed “Silent Supporters,” the ones who did not actively oppose the Greens and could have some sympathy toward them.
The upcoming race is whether the Resistance Front could unseat the United Principlist Front as the dominant force in the next Majlis. Also interesting to watch is how many seats could be won by the Mashaie Faction, the “Silent Supporters,” and the few reformists who might still pass the pre-qualification hurdle. In the coming month, we will follow the Majlis elections closely.