Iran parliamentary election set today with hardliners expected to win

FATF expected to blacklist Iran from int’l banking

An Iranian flag flutters in front of the IAEA headquarters in Vienna (photo credit: REUTERS/ LEONHARD FOEGER)
An Iranian flag flutters in front of the IAEA headquarters in Vienna
Iran’s parliamentary elections are set for Friday with hard-liners associated with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expected to make significant gains at the expense of allies of President Hassan Rouhani.
The bottom line is that the Islamic Republic’s newly elected parliament is expected to crack down on dissent and take a more confrontational stance with the West.
At the same time, the “reformist” and “pragmatist” camps may register some indirect victories with voter turnout predicted to be much lower than the usual 60%-66% range.
Hard-liners, trying to reduce expectations, said if turnout was over 50%, it would still be a victory, and even voter turnout in the 40% range was not different from countries such as France.
“Taking part in the elections nullifies many of the vicious plots of the US and the Zionist regime against Iran,” Khamenei posted Tuesday. “These #elections repel the schemes & ploys of the enemies of Iran.”
Khamenei appears ready to turn the clock back to the 2005-2013 era in which Iran’s parliament and presidency were run by hard-liners like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other IRGC members who loudly condemned the West.
The main uncertainties are what voter turnout will look like and whether Khamenei’s attempts to seize greater control of parliament will succeed.
Many in the reformist and pragmatist camps who have spoken to the media said they may boycott the election entirely to express their anger with disqualifications of some of their preferred candidates; more than 6,000 of some 14,000 candidates were disqualified.
Some voters are also angry with the regime’s handling of mistakenly shooting down a Ukrainian airliner full of mostly Iranian passengers, as well as the regime’s killing of between 300 and 1,500 protesters against the rise in gasoline prices in November.
A low voter turnout would harm the regime’s legitimacy, even if its preferred candidates won in parliamentary elections.
Iran’s Guardian Council always disqualifies some candidates whose politics it objects to.
However, usually it only disqualifies so-called reformist candidates who identify with the West and advocate transforming the current regime into a more Western-style democracy.
This round of disqualifications is unique because the Guardian Council has also disqualified a large number of so-called pragmatic candidates who support Rouhani.
The pragmatic camp is loyal to Khamenei and does not wish to transform Iran into a Western country. Rather, it wishes only to have positive relations with the West to advance Iran’s own economic and other self-interests.
Big gains by hard-liners would speed up the political demise of the country’s pragmatist politicians, who were weakened by the US President Donald Trump administration’s May 2018 decision to quit the 2015 nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions on Iran. But Iran’s elections are notorious for providing surprises.
In recent decades, Khamenei has alternated between allowing eras in which reformers-pragmatists were given higher profiles, such as when Mohammad Khatami was president from 1997-2005 and Rouhani’s term since 2013, compared with hard-liner Ahmadinejad from 2005-2013 and an expected return to greater hard-line rule in 2020-2021.
On Friday, Iran’s economy is expected to take a new major hit when the Financial Action Task Force will likely return it to a blacklist of countries in bed with financing terrorism.
FATF moved the Islamic Republic from a blacklist to a sort of gray list in 2016, which meant much greater access to the international banking system but a ticking clock to comply with anti-terrorism financial measures.
After more than three years of Tehran ignoring threats that time was running short on its chance to comply with combating terrorism financing, FATF issued what was probably a final ultimatum last October.
It told Iran if it did not come into full compliance by the February 16-21 conference, it would be returned to the blacklist.
Even Foreign Minister Javad Zarif appeared resigned to Iran being returned to the FATF blacklist, issuing statements to start framing the “blame game” narrative so that he and Rouhani would not be blamed.
Zarif said the FATF decision was all part of the US “maximum pressure” campaign and had nothing to do with Iranian transparency or meeting standard international banking standards for combating terrorism financing.
Iran is currently stuck in the same spot of partial compliance that it has been in for years.
Although Iran has passed some laws, and moderates like Rouhani and Iran Central Bank Governor Abdolnasser Hemmati have made public promises, parliament has failed to pass key legislation.
Within parliament, many officials have blocked the new legislation for years. As recently as January, Expediency Council chairman Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani called the new legislation dangerous.
If Iran was put back on the FATF blacklist, it would be somewhat separated from its key economic allies Russia and China, Hemmati said in December.
Though Russian and Chinese economic support has been a major reason the ayatollahs running Iran have survived the US’s “maximum pressure” campaign, Hemmati said, those countries’ banks would have trouble working with Iran if there were a FATF ban.
It would also widen the expanding chasm between Tehran and the EU, he said.
Going into the FATF conference, a leading Iranian parliamentary official who had supported passing the new legislation to help join the FATF was disqualified from running, appearing to send a clear message that Tehran will not bend more at this time.
There is an outside shot the FATF may extend Iran’s deadline as in the past.
FATF, also known by its French name, Groupe d’Action Financière, is an intergovernmental organization founded in 1989 on the initiative of the Group of Seven to develop policies to combat money laundering.
In 2001, its mandate expanded to include terrorism financing. After years of campaigning and modernizing its financial counterterrorism apparatus, Israel joined FATF in December 2018.