The 2016 Iranian Parliamentary Elections and the Future of Domestic Politics under the JCPOA
Elections in Iran often catch outsiders, and perhaps equally as often insiders, by surprise. From Mohammad Khatami’s shock win in 1997, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s unexpected sweep in 2005, and Hassan Rouhani’s 2013 marginal victory, elections have generally confounded and caught observers off guard. In addition to indicating the competitive and fierce nature of electoral competition within Iran, the shock of election results also point to endemic misunderstandings of the factional structures driving Iranian domestic politics and electoral voting patterns. These factors are not just limited to the presidential elections but are equally true for the country’s parliamentary contests, as witnessed in the 2016 elections.
Coming at a crucial juncture following the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran and the P5+1, Iran’s 10th parliamentary elections are significant for several reasons. The elections determine the makeup of the legislative branch for the next four years—four crucial years that will impact Rouhani’s ability to implement his domestic policies and his likelihood to win re-election in 2017. Significantly, these elections are the first Iran experienced since the signing of the JCPOA agreement and as such reflect the early impact of the nuclear agreement on domestic political change inside Iran.
Additionally, the new parliament will have a role in dealing with a reinvigorated cold war with Saudi Arabia, ever-increasing threats of regional sectarianism, and uncertain relations with the United States and the new Drumpf administration. As endemic uncertainty looms over the horizon, one thing is for sure: Iranian factionalism will continue to dominate the country's political scene and could threaten the basic tenets of the nuclear deal and Rouhani's hope to reintegrate Iran into the global economy.