Written by Robbie Adler

The elections in Iran this past Sunday marked a monumental shift in the politics of the country, as Iranians went to the polls to elect a new parliament. With a record-breaking election turnout, the reformist allies of President Hassan Rouhani scored sizeable victories, while hardline conservatives had their poorest showing in history. Impetus is gaining steam in Iran, and it seems that they are set to continue to improve their relationship with the United States. The U.S. may not grab the opportunity.

In the first election since the nuclear deal with the U.S. was struck last summer, Iranians displayed overwhelming approval for the reformist agenda pursued by President Hassan Rouhani. Rouhani, currently in the second year of his term, has pushed for much-needed economic reforms, seeking to ease tax and business restrictions, as well as advocating to moderate restrictive social practices. He also has sought increased cooperation with the West. The nuclear deal signed in September lifted decades of crippling economic sanctions, and marked the hopeful start of a process of reconciliation with the United States, alienated from each other since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

In the 290-person parliament (Majlis), reformists will hold 85 seats, a nearly threefold increase from their number in the previous government. Moderate conservatives, allies to the reformists on many issues, claim 78 seats. Together they will outnumber the conservative hardliners, who now hold only 68 seats, down from 112. This is the first time since the formation of the Islamic Republic in 1979 that the anti-western far right will not have a majority.

Elections were also held for the Assembly of Experts, a committee tasked with choosing the next Ayatollah, or Supreme Leader. Here too, the pendulum swung away from conservative hardliners, as moderates won 57 of the 88 seats. Elections for this body are held every eight years, and as the current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is now in his 70s and in ill health, there is a large possibility that this council will choose the next Supreme Leader.

There will still be many challenges ahead for the reformists. All elected candidates must be approved by the Guardian Council, an unelected clerical body, before their appointment is final. Reform will come slowly and in small steps. The enthusiastic support for Rouhani’s policies displays the prevailing sentiment among the population, namely that they are in full support of improving relations with the U.S., and desire to be a fully integrated part of the global economy. The U.S., on the other hand, is still struggling to come to terms with a warming relationship with their longtime enemy. A study last fall found that disapproval for the nuclear deal among the population had risen to nearly 50 percent since the announcement of the deal in July (this corresponds with a sharp drop in awareness of the issue). Many Republican congressmen, including several presidential candidates have vowed to “rip apart” the deal upon Obama’s departure from the White House. Trump has stated he would have “doubled down” on sanctions instead of lifting them. Perpetuating the rhetoric of the dangerous radicals who run the country. But somehow the American hardliners are blind to the fact that, in taking an uncompromising stance, they mimic the enemies they claim to protect us against.

In both countries, there remains much disagreement over the end of a decades-long enmity. While Iran seems to be moving impetuously in the right direction, the US is poised on a dangerous precipice. The U.S. Government must take care to avoid falling victim to xenophobic and bellicose policy, and risk missing a golden opportunity to improve our standing with an influential nation in a strategic region.

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