Iran held parliamentary elections just over a week ago. Did the more moderate factions within Iran win? Did they lose? The media isn’t quite sure: while a mere 68 seats went to hardline candidates, the rest of Iran’s 290-seat parliament was divided between conservative moderates and reformists.
But this is where things get tricky: some of the “moderates” elected are not actually moderates at all, just running on a moderate ticket (not unlike President Hassan Rouhani); many of the true moderates and reformists were barred from contesting the elections in the first place, as we pointed out last month.
However, not all news outlets made the distinction between moderate in name and moderate in deed, nor between a moderate who was disqualified from the race and a moderate nonthreatening enough (or with enough of a hardline pedigree) to be allowed to run.
On Vox, Max Fisher interpreted the election results as a “surprising victory to moderates” in which “the nuclear deal appeared to play a significant role;” but on Bloomberg, Eli Lake opined that thanks to “the magic of Iranian politics” – in which most reformists are disqualified by the Guardian Council – “many of yesterday’s hardliners are today’s reformists.”
The Guardian, meanwhile, called Lake and Bloomberg out for writing off “the importance of alliances and elections” in Iran, praising other writers instead for suggesting that Iran is becoming “more democratic in spite of itself.”
But even if the definition of democracy is stretched to the limit, it’s hard to claim last month’s vote “marginalized radicals” and signaled an Iranian turn towards moderation and democracy. Several outlets pointed out that at the end of the day, the election’s results served the Iranian regime well in its quest for self-preservation, both improving the regime’s stability and legitimacy and ensuring its ideological continuity without allowing more than a handful of reformists to participate.
In other words, as many commentators (as well as rights groups) have stated in recent weeks, far from becoming more democratic, the Iranian regime is still harnessing democracy to its own ends.