The outcome of Iran's February 21 parliamentary elections appears to be clear cut even before the ballots are cast: hard-liners and conservatives are likely to take control of the future parliament.
Yet the elections are still extremely important.
'This vote is significant because it commences the hard-line takeover of Iran's elected institutions,' says Sanam Vakil, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House in London, who adds that this process will end with next year's presidential vote going the way of the conservatives.
The expected victory of hard-liners in this week's vote -- which President Hassan Rohani says they have been boasting about privately -- has been ensured by a strict vetting process employed by the powerful Guardians Council.
That omnipotent powerbroker, whose 12 members are directly and indirectly appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has disqualified more than 9,000 of the 16,000 people who registered to run, including scores of reformists and moderate candidates.
'This is 2004-2005 all over again: a shift of the center of Iranian politics to the right, harbingered by a major victory by the hard-liners in low-turnout parliamentary elections, followed by a takeover of the presidency by the hard-liners,' says Ali Vaez, the director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group (ICG).
The power shift is part of a plan by Ayatollah Khamenei and his inner circle to unify the regime and close ranks in the face of perceived internal and external threats, namely a U.S. campaign of 'maximum pressure' that has devastated Iran's economy, analysts say.
Prominent Paris-based, Iranian political analyst Reza Alijani says Iran is witnessing a 'unification of power.'
'The hard core of the establishment under the leadership of Khamenei and security-military forces of the [Islamic] Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) aim to make the regime uniform to confront pressure and insecurity of the next few years, the most important of which is likely to be the succession of leadership.'
Eighty-year-old Khamenei -- who has the last say in all state matters in the Islamic republic -- has undergone surgery in recent years amid long-standing rumors he has prostate cancer. The establishment appears to be determined to make his succession, whenever it comes, as smooth as possible.
'It is possible that Ayatollah Khamenei is seeking a pliant parliament to usher in constitutional reforms that would allow his successor to implement his vision for the future of the Islamic republic with less internal resistance,' Vaez told RFE/RL, adding that the expected right-wing landslide does not mean 'a monolithic hard-liner's camp [because] the conservatives appear as divided as ever.'
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