As Final Election Results Trickle In, Low Chance For Major Changes In Iran

Mar 5, 2016
Originally published on March 6, 2016 10:27 am
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Transcript

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Last week, reformers in Iran made substantial gains in that country's parliamentary elections. This could help the moderate president's plans to improve the economy, but NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Tehran that people don't see broader political changes coming anytime soon.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: A covered bazaar in north Tehran has its share of visitors, but there seems to be a lot more window shopping than buying going on. Carpet shop owner Ali Mirnezami confirms that impression. He says this shop has been operating for 90 years, but at the moment, things aren't looking good

ALI MIRNEZAMI: (Through interpreter) The market is down. It's not bouncing back. Were still waiting for final election results. And we hope that will improve things, but so far nothing tangible.

KENYON: Mirnezami is eager for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to fulfill his promise to use the money coming into Iran as part of last year's nuclear agreement with world powers to boost the economy.

MIRNEZAMI: (Through interpreter) They need to tackle inflation, bring it down and also create some jobs for our young people. Then they need to look to the production sector and rehabilitate our factories. I hope the early signs of a more cooperative parliament are true.

KENYON: If the parliament isn't more cooperative, it won't be for lack of turnout by reform-minded voters. Even though few reform candidates were allowed to run, voters like Mohammad Reza Rezahani stood in long lines to try to keep hard-liners out of parliament. The reason, he said, is not just the economy.

MOHAMMAD REZA REZAHANI: I vote today only for freedom - a little freedom, a little. I'm not having any freedom - a little freedom.

KENYON: All right, would you like to see a parliament that can work together with President Rouhani?

REZAHANI: Yes, yes, I like it.

KENYON: It's clear that voters like Rezahani are yearning for more than just a job. Iran has a young population, and the desire to get out from under conservative religious social restrictions and to be able to speak their mind without fear of arrest is palpable. But nearly seven years after authorities crushed massive street protests, reformers are still threatened with arrest and expectations for change are extremely low. For one thing, there will be large numbers of conservatives in the next parliament who will oppose changes on sensitive issues like the mandatory headscarf for women.

Iranians also see external reasons for caution. Analyst Foad Izadi at Tehran University says Iranians only need to look at the chaos plaguing the region to see how easily popular demands for change can get out of hand.

FOAD IZADI: So if people want to change things, and a lot of people want to change things, they do not want another revolution because revolutions will be messy and deadly. And so they do want to change some aspects of of government, but they want to do it through polling stations that are organized by this government.

KENYON: That leaves the focus on the economy, which suits cooking and catering business woman Sanaz Minaei just fine. She shows a visitor a cooking class at one of her several companies and says the opportunities for Iran are huge if only the country can rejoin the global economy as promised.

SANAZ MINAEI: (Through interpreter) Certainly we'd like a parliament that will open up communications with the outside world. And when the parliament is cooperating with the government, there is more peace, and peace is good for business. My wish is to see all the sanctions finally lifted so we can get back to doing business with the rest of the world.

KENYON: Minaei includes the U.S. in that wish, but doesn't expect it to come true overnight. She's one of Iran's most successful businesswomen and yet she can't even get a visa to visit her sisters in America, let alone do business there. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Tehran. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.