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Iran's Young Conservatives Eye Parliament Seats As Change Of Guards Is Underway

FILE PHOTO - An Iranian man walks past an electoral portrait of presidential candidate Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf in Tehran, May 15, 2017

Less than two weeks before the parliamentary elections in Iran, no one in Iran's political circles seems to have any doubt about a landslide victory by conservatives and ultraconservatives.

From President Hassan Rouhani to political pundits on both ends of the political spectrum and leading members of Iran's reform camp have pointed out the high likelihood of a conservative victory in the absence of prominent reformist figures after it became clear the hardliner dominated Guardian Council in late January and early February rejected most reformists.

Since then, various groups of conservatives have released lists and posters of their candidates although official campaigning has not started yet.

Iran's Conservatives and ultraconservatives who call themselves "Principlists" have been trying to unite since September, but as it was also the case in previous elections, so far there does not seem to be any sign of unity among them.

In one of the latest attempts to categorize various conservative groups, semi-official news agency ISNA has divided Iranian conservatives into five groups describing each in a few words. Here are some further descriptions:

  • Traditional Conservatives -- These are aging figures affiliated with the Qom Seminary, the fundamentalist Islamic Coalition Party, and a confederation of over 20 smaller conservative vocational associations including engineers, teachers, businessmen, etc.
  • Pro-Qalibaf Neo-Conservatives -- This is a new political group the former Tehran mayor formed following his defeat in the 2017 Presidential elections. While still serving as mayor, he recruited young conservatives mainly from Khorasan Province where he comes from and placed them in various departments of the Tehran Municipality giving them an opportunity to learn the tricks of administrative work. However, Qalibaf's administration was notorious in murky wheeling-dealing and he was later accused of funneling millions from the city hall to his wife and associates.
  • Progress, Welfare, Justice Front -- A combination of several low-key traditional conservative groups led by individuals in the second and lower tiers of Iranian political hierarchy. The most important organization of this group is the Abadgaran-e Javan (Young Developers) whose members happen to be in their 60s and 70s. They supported Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential elections but lost their leverage halfway through Ahmadinejad's term of office.
  • Paydari Front -- This front operates under the spiritual leadership of hardliner Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi. This was the front that brought Ahmadinejad to power, but its members distanced themselves from the former president when he fell out with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 2011. Although they insist that they have nothing to do with Ahmadinejad, many of their leaders were close allies of the former president. Morteza Aqa Tehrani, the Front's main leader was Ahmadinejad's ethics teacher.
  • Pro-Ahmadinejad Bahar Group -- Although Ahmadinjad has been vocal during the past three years, and many believe that his allies in Tehran and other cities have been actively working to secure their seats at the next parliament, people close to him, including Bahar's representative to the so-called Conservative Coalition, Mohammad Reza Mir Tajeddini deny Bahar's renewed political ambition. However, Mir Tajeddni's presence in the coalition that was formed to bring about unity among conservatives indicates that the Bahar (Spring) Front will be active in the February elections and its members are likely to be on the same list with Paydari's candidates.

One major feature of the 2020 Majles elections is the importance Ayatollah Khamenei and other political leaders in Iran have attached to the presence of younger candidates. The upcoming election, in a way, is going to be a “change of guard” during which a new generation of Islamic Republic politicians are going to begin replacing the Old Guard.

This leaves only three of the five groups in the spotlight although standard-bearers of the old guard such as Mostafa Mirsalim of the Islamic Coalition Council are among the candidates. But everyone expects to see a larger number of younger MPs at the next Majlis.

Based on this list, the pro-Qalibaf Neo-Conservatives, Part of the Paydari Front and Ahmadinejad's men in the Bahar Front have a better chance of starting the generational change at the Majles.

Pro-reform weekly Seda in Tehran has come up with a slightly different categorization for the three groups:

In this list, there are three groups represented by their spiritual fathers; Qalibaf who heads three sub-groups, Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi who heads a group of figures who were at least once close to Paydari Front, and Vahid Jalili who heads a group called "Development-Seekers," the ultraconservative’s translation of the word "reformists."

Prominent conservative journalists Mehdi Mohammadi (who was also a nuclear negotiator) and Farshad Mehdipour's names appear under Qalibaf, former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and TV presenter Vahid Yaminpour's names appears under Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, while those under Vahid Jalili (Saeed's brother) are some of the youngest and more vocal conservative political figures.

Some of these young conservatives talk about their socialists-populist ideas in a video which might signify nothing more than electioneering.

After four decades of mainly elderly politicians in the Majles, a change of guard may finally bring about a change in the Iranian political landscape but the nature of this change will depend on whether the highly ambitious and more educated younger generation can impose its might on the older deputies whose main characteristic in the past four decades was their gross naivety and outdated rhetoric.

Two decades of slow struggle for changing a rigid administrative and political system has proved to be futile. Whether young conservatives can make a change and whether the public whose patience is wearing extremely thin would settle for the change they want to bring about, is another question.