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General

Why Iran's parliamentary elections matter

media Iranians voted on Friday 26 for Parliamentary elections REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi

Iranians voted on Friday in a what was considered a major test for President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who hopes to curb conservative dominance and provide an opening for domestic reforms after a nuclear deal with world powers. As well as picking 290 members of parliament, the electorate also voted in a second election to select the Assembly of Experts, a powerful committee of 88 clerics that monitors Khamenei's work.

Iranians voted in two sets of elections. First, for the next Majlis - the Iranian parliament - but also for the assembly of experts - the clerical body in charge of appointing the next supreme leader. Both come at a critical time.

"These elections are quite important because Iranian people have to decide for the future of their country, if this will be a future with more popular participation to the political life of the country or if it will be more divine rule," Clément Therme, a teaching fellow specializing in Oriental studies in the Sociology Institute in Paris, told RFI.

"So I think there is different projects inside the Iranian political system on the future of Iran. Will it be an emerging country or a revolutionary state?"

Iranians could choose to endorse the international outreach started by the current President or the results could deliver rebuke instead.

If voters support the pro-Rouhani list, the president could swing the balance of power in parliament and have the opportunity to pass reforms through parliament, something that has been blocked to date.

So the voters had two options: they could either choose Rouhani's extended hand towards the international community, or the conservative one.

"The second line is something else, it is the line of the fundamentalists, the principalists as they call themselves. They want to prolong the spirit of resistance of the Islamic Republic which is fighting against the rest of the world, to spread its vision of conquering Islam," François Nicoullaud, the former French ambassador to Iran, told RFI.

"And of course these two lines are antagonistic. If Rouhani wins the majority, it will help him. But that doesn't mean that all problems will be solved, because even with the majority, the President of the Republic in Iran is not so strong politically."

Rouhani's agenda ever since he was elected president has been developing Iran's economy. That's why he was so set on finally signing a nuclear deal so that international sanctions would be lifted and Iran's economy could recover.

But that's also why the hardliners fight him so much. They say strong economic growth will only be possible if a "resistance economy" model is put in place, not unlike the ideals of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, with the belief that only domestic production will help the economy.

Rouhani will pay particular attention to the economy while he remains in power.

"At a time when the impacts of tough sanctions by the EU and the US have created a lot of problems for the Iranian economy, specially on ordinary people, the expectations have always been that with the lifting of the sanctions, Rouhani can bring back growth and create jobs for the youth. Unemployment is more than 25%," Dr. Hassan Hakimian is the Director of the London Middle East Institute at SOAS University said.

"Now, the moderate hope is to be able to reconnect and integrate the Iranian economy back into the international economy, and that's where a big potential conflict looms with the hardliners who will do their best to thwart reforms and they will want to highlight the strategic failures of Rouhani in meeting high expectations." 

And thats  what Iranians want - prosperity and employment.

"In terms of what Iranians expect from these elections, the bar is actually pretty low, because the pool of candidates that are left are not the best that the Iranian people were hoping for, particularly from the reformist camp. But there is still what is labelled as the "List of Hope" by the moderates and reformists, who they believe will actually bring about important change through their power in Parliament," Ellie Geranmayeh, an Iran specialist from the European Council on Foreign Relations said.

"Latest polling has suggested that between 70 to 80% voters would turn out, which would be incredibly high for a parliamentary election in Iran. And actually with that turnout, that would be a clear signal that they are supporting the current Rouhani's administration and that will boost his chances of getting reelected in the 2017 presidential elections."

Results of the elections, expected early next week, will determine whether hardliners remain in power or if moderate and pro-reform figures will make a comeback.

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