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Pundits Say Iran's New Parliament Is Weak, With 'Incompetent' Members

Parliamentary election campaign posters are seen at the end of the parliamentary election in Tehran, February 20, 2020

Three weeks ahead of Iran's new parliament starting work, an outspoken conservative pundit and a prominent journalist, Mohammad Mohajeri, has shed light on the political makeup of the new Majles where conservatives of various shades have nearly taken all 290 seats.

However, the victory was the outcome of an engineered election that left out most reform-minded candidates in the process of a ruthless vetting by the hardliner Guardian Council. The February elections also set a record of the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic of Iran since 1979.

Nevertheless, says Mohajeri, "Conservatives know that this is going to be a weak parliament. Conservatives have won the Majles with a turnout as low as 24 percent in Tehran."

Conservative pundit and journalist Mohammad Mohajeri. FILE PHOTO
Conservative pundit and journalist Mohammad Mohajeri. FILE PHOTO

Meanwhile, on the same day, a prominent reformist figure, Alireza Alavitabar wrote an article in reformist daily Sharq, shedding light on the line-up in the Majles. In the article he revealed that only 16 reformist figures have found their way into the Majles. "Other reformists have characterized them as low-key reform-minded individuals.

Mohajeri says not only the reformists but all newly elected lawmakers are below average. "Those who have entered the Majles are not competent enough," he says, adding that "MPs at the new Majles are neither efficient nor expert."

Mohajeri says that is why hardliners including the columnists of the ultraconservative Kayhan newspaper, close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's office try to silence any discussion about the competency and the combination of the new parliament. He adds that those who have stage-managed the election, plan to create a monophonic parliament and society.

Asked if the conservative camp's problem is the absence of a leader, Mohajeri said in fact they have too many leaders: "A bad commander is better than two good commanders! Conservatives have 50 leaders. And it is every man for himself. Even before entering the Majles, the leaders are fighting over the post of Majles Speaker."

Assessing the competency of the Majles, Mohajeri says: "It is like a volleyball team in which all players are too short. They cannot do anything even if there are one or two good players."

In terms of popularity and influence among the grassroot, Mohajeri says: "This Majles is like a stepmother. It is legitimate and there may be nothing wrong with it, but whatever it is, it is not popular. Most don’t like it."

Speaking about the impact of the Majles election and the new Majles on the 2021 Presidential election, Mohajeri says, "As far as conservatives are concerned, the Majles election proved that you can win the election no matter what percentage of the population you represent."

He said the conservatives are portraying this as a "normal situation," and they are even saying that this is a good revolutionary parliament, so that if someone wins the presidential election in the same way and with an extremely low turnout, they can say that is quite normal."

"In the meantime, they are going to challenge everyone. They have already called for censorship of social media," he said.

Criticizing the heavyweights of the next Majles, Mohajeri said: "Former mayor of Tehran Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf has no political background. He cannot even talk about politics for 20 minutes. He does not like politics, so he is hopeless. On the other hand, Mostafa Mirsalim who has held official positions for forty years, still talks like a 20-year old student. He was the same during the campaign for the 2017 presidential election."

Mohajeri also criticized Iranian reformists using their own word: "The reforms are dead, without a funeral as there was an epidemic," He quoted Reformist Analyst Sadeq Zibakalam. However, he said this brings no joy to him. "There will be no good football if there we don’t have two powerful teams," he said. Mohajeri, blamed President Hassan Rouhani for Reformists' sorry state "as he failed to meet reformist voters' expectations."

Alireza Alavitaber, reformist pundit and analyst. FILE PHOTO
Alireza Alavitaber, reformist pundit and analyst. FILE PHOTO

Meanwhile, Alavitabar in his article noted that there are 60 "independent" MPs in the new Majles and that they can be an influential force if they cooperate with the 16 reformist lawmakers and form a strong minority. He may be right as 76 votes can make a lot of difference when there are sensitive matters to be decided. Circles close to President Rouhani have welcomed the move to form an Independent faction, possibly to protect the Rouhani administration's interests in the next Majles.

Probably deliberately, Alavitabar did not mention that the majority of the new Majles, the Paydari Front is said to have between 70 to 90 members.

The remaining seats are divided between traditional conservatives (with less than 20 seats), neoconservatives(over 50 seats) , and the supporters of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (estimated to be up to 50). Although Paydari members have often said that they are not aligned with Ahmadinejad supporters, this position is a tactical move after Ahmadinejad fell out with Khamenei in 2011. If they support each other at sensitive junctures they will have a significant majority.

However, as conservative analyst Amir Mohebbian has once said, there are conservatives in Iran but there is no conservatism. In modern Iranian context, there are "Principlists," but there aren't any principles. So, there might be even more shifts and alliances as the Majles opens on May 28.