Middle East

Why Iran's moderates must capitalise quickly

An Iranian woman holds a girl as she casts her vote during a second round of parliamentary elections, in Shiraz (30 April 2016) Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Iran is now at a critical juncture in the battle between conservatives and reformists

The run-off parliamentary election win by the moderate government of Iran is a crucial victory for them.

The vote held on Friday was for 68 seats out of the 290 in parliament. It meant that nervous Iranians woke up on Saturday morning to an all new political landscape.

For the first time in 13 years moderates and reformists now have a majority in parliament.

While it was not a sweeping victory for the supporters of President Hassan Rouhani, it was still a surprise win, especially given the months of heavy campaigning against the government's policies.

Hardliners had a majority in the outgoing parliament.

Image copyright Alamy
Image caption Any delay in the lifting of sanctions will harm President Rouhani's economic reform plans
Image copyright AP
Image caption The hardliners may now be on the back foot but their demise may not permanent

In the three years since Hassan Rouhani took office, they have bitterly opposed most of government's plans, organising a fierce attack on the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Some MPs have even gone so far as to describe Foreign Minister Javad Zarif as a traitor.

The popular moderate who negotiated the nuclear deal has regularly been subject to harsh criticism in parliament and is under constant threat of impeachment by fundamentalist MPs.

Now almost all those MPs have been unseated by moderate or reformist counterparts, and those who remain either supported the deal or at least never attacked it as vociferously as their unseated comrades.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Social media played a key role in the victory of the moderates
Image copyright EPA
Image caption Moderates focused their message towards the young and women in particular

Many observers argue the nuclear deal not only brought an end to years of harsh international sanctions but was also the deal-breaker in the elections. The people were saying no to those who had promised to stop the deal.

What puts this victory in a more meaningful context is the fact that it was achieved despite almost all well-known reformists being banned from running in the elections and a complete lack of media coverage of their campaign in the run-up to the elections.

State TV and media never gave equal coverage to reformists or moderate candidates and even led a campaign against the deal in recent months.

The only medium available to pro-government candidates was the internet and social media, which they used to the maximum in getting their message across, especially to the young and women.

The triumph of the reformists should lead to a major realignment within parliament, making it more supportive of President Rouhani.

But it will by no means end the president's problems when it comes to delivering his election promises.

The nuclear deal has hit some rough patches on its way to implementation.

Apart from domestic oppositions from hardliners in parliament and other unelected bodies, there are still a lot of obstacles to overcome outside of Iran.

The international banks still have not opened up to Iranian businesses and in the US, conservatives in Congress are doing all they can to derail the deal.

Any more delays in its implementation and ensuing lifting of sanctions would harm President Rouhani's economic reform plans and would prepare the ground for hardliners to recover from the this week's defeat in order to reshape their campaign against the government.

Time is not on the moderates' side and the new momentum could die down easily if it is not supported by economic rewards.

This is a worry that every unseated hardliner MP is focusing on from now onwards.