Apparent setback for Ahmadinejad

Only early returns are in from Iran’s local council and Assembly of Experts elections. In fact, results are delayed due to problems with the computerized counting process. Fortunately, Iranian electoral authorities know how to count paper ballots by hand. But I digress…

It is already apparent that supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have suffered some key setbacks. In the Tehran race for Experts seats, the man whom Ahmadinejad defeated for president in June, 2005, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, has about twice the votes of Mohamad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, who is seen as both a political mentor of Ahmadinejad and a potential successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. (As noted in my previous discussion, the Experts choose the next Supreme Leader whenever the incumbent dies or otherwise cannot continue.)

Rafsanjani, considered a conservative before Ahmadinejad came onto the scene, was backed by reformists including ex-president Mohammad Khatami and apparently also was favored by the Supreme Leader.

Additionally, candidates backed by Ahmadinejad appear to have lost control of the Tehran municipal council, winning only two of fifteen seats.

Even though Iran is no democracy, at least one thing about the result is consistent with interpretations that will be familiar to Americans and others: The President denies that the outcome is in any way a reflection on his administration.

The results for the one national body at stake in these elections need to be treated with caution. Each province serves as a multi-seat district for the Assembly of Experts, and the electoral system is multiple nontransferable vote (MNTV). Under MNTV, the voter may cast up to as many votes as there are seats at stake in the district and the winners are simply the candidates with the most votes. There are no party lists to pool votes from a popular “party” leader to allied candidates, and there are effectively no parties, although there are loose party-like groupings. Despite the wide disparity in votes between Rafsanjani and Mesbah-Yazdi, both will be elected in Tehran, and it is thus far not entirely clear what the balance of allies of either man will be in Tehran’s Experts delegation.

Mesbah-Yazdi is in sixth place out of sixteen seats. The wide disparity between the two leaders is itself an indicator that most voters do not cast the full number of votes available to them. This is typical of MNTV systems, even with lower magnitude, but imagine the task for the voter when there are sixteen votes that he or she may cast, and candidate names are not organized on the ballot by party or even with party names beside them! Thus we can infer little from gap in votes between Rafsanjani and Mesbah-Yazdi about the overall balance, even in Tehran, let alone in the twenty-seven other districts (which range in magnitude from one to eight). However, Reuters India suggests that Mesbah-Yazdi’s favored candidates did not do so well:

Two candidates, identified by clerics as Mesbah-Yazdi allies, were out of the running in Tehran, the official IRNA news agency said. Three Mesbah-Yazdi supporters lost in other regions though at least one was known to have secured a seat.

Some of Ahmadinejad’s strongest support is in the provinces, so Mesbah-Yazdi allies probably have won elsewhere, and, as noted above, many of these provinces have low magnitude and thus may not have elected Rafsanjani allies.

Whatever the final outcome, the change in control of the Tehran city council and the strong showing in the Tehran Experts race by Rafsanjani clearly shows the limits of Ahmadinejad’s support within even the narrowly representative Iranian political class. If the “conference” on the Shoah and the repeated belligerent remarks about Israel were meant to mobilize his ultra-fundamentalist base, they appear to have backfired.

Turnout in these elections was high–apparently around sixty percent. Those who were energized were apparently the reformists, who had largely boycotted the elections of 2004 for parliament and 2005 for president.

: Jonathan’s discussion at The Head Heeb is well worth reading. It contains excellent detail and context, including the fascinating note that in a Majlis by-election in Tehran the winner was female trade unionist Soheila Jelodarzadeh.

3 thoughts on “Apparent setback for Ahmadinejad

  1. I’ve posted some analysis here. Key points, as I see them, are as follows:

    (1) Any analysis of this election’s impact on Ahmedinejad’s popularity has to account for the Guardians’ pre-vote manipulation. Given that the Experts election (unlike the parliamentary and even presidential elections) actually posed a threat to Khamenei’s job security, the Guardians cracked down hard even by Iranian standards. Not only did they disqualify two thirds of the candidates including several incumbents, but they moved some pro-Khamenei candidates to rural districts where they faced no opposition. There were some opposition figures like Mesbah-Yazdi (it’s kind of funny to describe the president’s allies as the “opposition,” but this is Iran) who had too much stature for the Guardians to keep out, but it was a foregone conclusion that the presidential faction would lose.

    (2) I wouldn’t read too much into Rafsanjani’s head-to-head defeat of Mesbah-Yazdi. Both were running in Tehran, where Ahmedinejad has always been unpopular. The rural districts, which for the most part had little real competition, are the ones where Ahmedinejad’s people could have run well, and we’ll never know how they would have fared in a completely free vote.

    (3) The municipal elections, which aren’t under the Guardians’ authority and are subject to a looser vetting process, are a somewhat more reliable barometer of public opinion. Here, Ahmedinejad’s allies did poorly in Tehran (where they not only were reduced to three seats but placed near the bottom of the successful candidates) and several provincial cities. The results from the rural districts might not be known for a few days, however, and I’m not sure whether the presidential faction will do as badly there.

    (4) There seems to have been a de facto “stop Ahmedinejad” alliance between Khamenei’s conservatives and the reformists, possibly with the object of defeating Ahmedinejad in 2009 and ultimately putting Rafsanjani into the Supreme Leader’s chair. This, along with an apparent effort by the reformists to broaden their working-class appeal (e.g., by running a charismatic female trade unionist in the Teheran parliamentary by-election) enabled the reform faction to make a modest comeback. This has to be viewed in the context of the steady ratcheting-closed of the Iranian political system, though; Khamenei may have needed the reformists’ votes this time in order to turn the vise on Ahmedinejad and he might throw them a few policy bones, but I doubt he’ll ever let them become politically dominant again. It’s a shame, because there have been areas such as labor and environmental policy where public opinion has historically mattered, and the future is likely to see it matter less and less.

    (And now that I’m reading your earlier post on the Iranian election, I see you made some of the same points there. I’ll have to add a link.)

  2. Pingback: Fruits and Votes

  3. Pingback: District magnitude and reelection in Iran (and what is a mixed-member system) | Fruits and Votes

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