Read the full article on the Washington Post.

The stunning performance of Iran’s moderate forces in the Feb. 26 elections has prompted new optimism for democracy in the Islamic Republic. It should not.

The victors of these elections might better be described as a mighty centrist coalition of pragmatists, reformists and moderate conservatives. This coalition aims at narrowing the ideological spectrum in Iran at the expense of both democracy and Islamism.  Headed by former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and his protégé current President Hassan Rouhani, this coalition has been three decades in the making. Here is how:

After removing leftist and nationalist rivals after the 1979 revolution, Iranian Islamists split into radical left and conservative right. Then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini struck a balance between the two until his death in 1989 unleashed a vicious rivalry for power. Rafsanjani seized the opportunity and first teamed up with the conservative right against the radical left. But in 1997, he shifted allegiances and partnered with the left against the right.

The first alliance helped Khamenei’s transition from a weak president to a weak supreme leader and Rafsanjani from a powerful speaker of the Majles to a powerful president, both thanks to the recent constitutional amendment. The balance of power between the two figures, however, reversed and they fell apart in the mid-90s over various domestic and foreign policy issues culminating in Khamenei blocking Rafsanjani to change the constitution to become a third-term president. To Khamenei’s dismay, Rafsanjani then threw his political machinery behind the radical left, now calling themselves “reformists.” This helped Mohammad Khatami secure the presidency in 1997.

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