close button
Switch to Iranwire Light?
It looks like you’re having trouble loading the content on this page. Switch to Iranwire Light instead.

Elections End Any Pretense of Democracy in Iran

February 22, 2020
Pezhman Tahavori
5 min read
Elections End Any Pretense of Democracy in Iran

Hardliners look set to command a huge majority in Iran’s next parliament, a result widely anticipated following the large-scale disqualification of reformist candidates and very low voter turnout.

Elections to vote 290 members into the 11th parliament (majlis) took place on Friday, February 21. Successful candidates, who will serve four years, were required to win at least 20 percent of the votes in their constituencies. A second round of elections, to be held for constituencies where no candidates won 20 percent of the votes, will take place on April 17, 2020; the two candidates having won most of the votes will compete [Persian link]. It is twice as likely that constituencies that have more than two seats in parliament will go to a second round.

Iranians have voted in 10 parliament elections, and the Islamic Republic has always prided itself on high voter turnout, which has tended to be around 50 percent of the population. But these elections have been different, with disenchantment rife among the public after the Guardian Council disqualified a huge number of reformist candidates. Elections for Iran’s 11th parliament has not been a competitive contest in the usual sense, and potential voters see no difference between the candidates. Prior to the elections, President Hassan Rouhani even referred to them as "appointments." Although previous elections have gone some way to convey the message from the heart of society to the power pyramid, the 2020 parliamentary elections did not do this [Persian link].

Iran has witnessed voter apathy before. In some previous years, such as elections for the sixth and the tenth parliamentary elections, held in 2000 and 2016 respectively, Iranian voters attempted to usher in a change in politics, electing large numbers of reformist candidates, although the “reformist” label covers a wide range of political factions, even though they share a general commonality that they are in opposition to the more hardline brand of Iranian politics. But in other years, such as elections for the seventh, eighth, and ninth parliaments, in 2004, 2008 and 2012, they showed little hope for reform and many people decided not to vote.

Although similar to the seventh parliamentary elections in terms of turnout, the elections for the 11th parliament are not similar to any other parliamentary election period because:

1- People boycotted the elections on a large scale, sending a strong message that they did not believe participating in the political process would have a real impact. Iranians refused to vote not simply because of the widespread disqualification of candidates and the fact that there was no real political competition (though this, of course, had an impact), but mainly because parliament has become no more than a ceremonial, decorative institution unable to play any role in decision-making in the country. The dominance of non-elected bodies and their power over parliament has meant voters are simply unprepared to participate in the electoral process.  

During the last (10th) parliament, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei ensured the Expediency Council was in charge of establishing high-level supervisory bodies to implement the country’s macro policies, and created an Economic Coordination Council consisting of the heads of the three branches of power, leaving parliamentarians in a feeble position to make decisions on major and important issues. The parliament, under the shadow of the Guardian Council, the Supreme Council for Cultural Revolution, the Supreme Council for Cyberspace, and the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces, was sidelined and impotent.

In particular, parliament had no say in the rejection of the bill for Iran to join the Financial Action Task Force anti-money laundering convention, nor did it have any power to influence the Economic Coordination Council’s decision to introduce a three-fold increase in gas prices — in fact, most parliamentarians were said to have been unaware of the decision. When the Iranian people felt that parliament had lost its function, they believed that participating in the elections would be an endorsement of the extrajudicial conduct of the Supreme Leader and of non-elected bodies.

2- Members of parliament were unable to take action against the regime’s repressive forces and widespread violence against the country’s people over the last four years, most recently in January 2020, and most brutally in November 2019, when hundreds of people lost their lives and many were injured. So even though many reformist candidates were unable to run in the elections, Iranian people have come to believe that neither politicians or the country’s electoral institutions can be relied on to reinstate their lost rights and speak out against the military and judicial crackdown. As far as they are concerned, their representatives stood by the repressors, so the majority of the population felt that not taking part in the electoral process was the only way they could put an end to the corrupt cycle, or at least express an opinion that this is what they wanted. 

3- These elections marked a new chapter in Iranian politics. The widespread boycott sent a message: Whether reformist or hardliner conservative, politicians are unable to make a difference and Iran’s political system is defunct. Many people are calling for a radical change in the military structure of the government and the recognition of the "right to national sovereignty." Although some reformist politicians understood this message and stood by the people, many still have a different understanding of the will of the people or are loyal to the Islamic Republic and so stand by the ruling power.

Iran’s interior ministry is due to announce how many people voted in Friday’s elections for the 11th parliament either on February 22 or February 23. However, it will be difficult to trust the government's official figures. Both the people and the government know the truth. The overwhelming majority of the Iranian people boycotted the elections, and by 7 pm on election day, the Iranian intelligence minister expressed hope that voter turnout would reach an acceptable norm before the polling stations closed — an acknowledgment that the boycott was substantial.

Friday's elections were not healthy, free, or competitive, and the Iranian people’s boycott has sent a clear message to the authorities: they want a radical change in the way the country is run. These elections should mark the beginning of a new chapter in Iranian politics. But will they? 


Related coverage:

Iran has been Moving Toward a Military Dictatorship, One Parliament at a Time




Torturers, Islamic Republic Style

February 21, 2020
Touka Neyestani
Torturers, Islamic Republic Style