I just posted a primer for tomorrow’s Iranian elections at Medium:
The parliamentary elections are important — a less hardline parliament means more space for Rouhani to implement his domestic agenda (although even an outright reformist parliament would be subject to being overriden by the Guardians’ Council and the Supreme Leader), and a more hardline parliament means Rouhani will struggle to get much done before he has to stand for reelection next year. But the Assembly elections are more significant. Usually the Assembly of Experts does little or nothing, but with Khamenei in his mid-70s and reportedly not in great health, there’s a good chance that the next Assembly will get to perform that body’s one major function: selecting a new Supreme Leader. Now, the Assembly doesn’t pick a new Supreme Leader in a vacuum, and outside voices, especially among the clerical elite and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, will have input into the process. But a more moderate Assembly likely means a more moderate successor to Khamenei.
I didn’t include it in the piece, but IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, shown here in mural form, behind a body-building contest that was recently held in Kerman in his honor:
reportedly did kind of an unexpected thing yesterday: he endorsed Iran’s incumbent parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, for reelection. Here’s part of the report from IranWire:
Speaking to the families of Iranian soldiers who had died in the conflict in Syria, Soleimani, who commands Iran’s expeditionary Qods Force, praised the speaker, who hopes to be elected to represent the seminary district of Qom — and has also attracted criticism from some of Iran’s fiercest hardliners.
Soleimani told the group he had admired Larijani’s commitment to revolutionary movements in the region throughout the influential candidate’s career, from his time at state-run Islamic Republic of Iranian Broadcasting to the present day. “He has always supported the Qods Force and I have always enjoyed his intellectual and practical support. I wish him success.” Soleimani’s comments make specific reference to Larijani’s time as the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council from 2005 to 2007.
This is a serious endorsement. Soleimani has been shown in recent public opinion polls to be one of the three most popular figures in Iran, behind Rouhani and foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (both of whom, but Zarif in particular, are basking in the glow of the successfully completed nuclear deal). But he’s also thought of as an ultra-hardliner, and Ali Larijani is more of a moderate conservative (he generally supported the nuclear talks, for example) who has been a political target for hardliners. Larijani has gone out of his way in the past to cultivate a good relationship with Soleimani, so there’s a personal tie there. But still, Soleimani’s endorsement will go a long way toward insulating Larijani from hardliner attacks and may even spill over to Larijani’s moderate allies.
While Soleimani’s decision to endorse Larijani may be a little surprising, it’s smart politics for him. With the makeup of the next parliament and the next Assembly of Experts in doubt, Soleimani presumably would like to keep his Quds Force, and all its various regional interventions, from becoming a partisan issue. So doing something nice for a prominent moderate politician could pay dividends for him down the road.
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