The Straits Times says

Iran polls a vote for moderation

The sweeping victory of reformist candidates in Iran's recent parliamentary elections marks a step forward for a country that has embodied the hold of religious politics since the Islamic revolution of 1979. Admittedly, the reformist gains were achieved within a limited framework of contestation. Electoral contenders needed to be vetted by a guardian council which tries its best to maintain the status quo. Zealous reformers are excluded because they are in prison, say dissidents. Those in the electoral fray must subscribe to the concept of the Islamic Republic of Iran, although this condition is no more onerous than that which falls on politicians everywhere to uphold the Constitution within which they are elected to power.

What is interesting is that, given the narrow width of electoral choices, reformists managed to do so well, particularly in the bellwether capital, Teheran. Their success suggests that popular yearnings for change within the religious parameters of the political system could redefine that system meaningfully from within. If this were to occur, they would be carrying on the legacy of President Hassan Rouhani, whose reformist agenda laid some of the groundwork for the ascendancy of the new voices that were heard in this election.

Certainly, the conduct of the Iranian state is not expected to change dramatically merely because of an election. The real levers of power are held by a consortium of forces that extend well beyond Parliament. Iran's Supreme Leader controls the armed forces and the intelligence agencies, along with the Revolutionary Guard Corps. The reach of the latter extends into the economy through its control over strategic industries, commercial services and other enterprises. However, the results of elections to the Assembly of Experts, which chooses the Supreme Leader - elections held concurrently with the legislative polls - make it plausible that the successor to the post, held currently by an ailing Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, would advance internal reforms and bring Iran closer to the international community. That would mark Iran's coming of age in the contemporary era.

Teheran's landmark nuclear deal with world powers inaugurated a crucial phase in Iranian domestic politics, as much as in its foreign policy. Now, hardliners have a more difficult time pointing to the West for the country's economic difficulties. Psychologically, the deal makes swathes of the population less likely to fall for the political line that other countries are hostile to Iran's legitimate interests and aspirations.The political opportunity created by the deal benefits forces of moderation within Iran.

The world would hope that, in the light of these elections, Iran will move towards being a regional power that can make its weight felt, not least on matters such as the peaceful resolution of problems like the Syrian crisis.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2016, with the headline 'Iran polls a vote for moderation'. Print Edition | Subscribe