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Explainer: All You Need to Know About Iran’s Upcoming Elections

February 28, 2024
Pezhman Tahavori
5 min read
Iranian voters will head to the polls on March 1 to elect representatives for the 12th parliament since the 1979 Islamic Revolution
Iranian voters will head to the polls on March 1 to elect representatives for the 12th parliament since the 1979 Islamic Revolution

Iranian voters will head to the polls on March 1 to elect representatives for the 12th parliament since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. 

It will be the first polls since the country was rocked by months of nationwide protests against the Islamic Republic's political system. 

The Woman, Life, Freedom movement protest movement was met with a bloody crackdown that has dampened public enthusiasm for the upcoming vote. 

The gulf between the populace and the clerical rulers has widened significantly since 2019, coinciding with the widespread repression of demonstrators and a sharp rise in prices. 

Record-low turnout was recorded in the parliamentary and presidential elections that followed the 2019 protest movement. 

Therefore, it is unlikely that turnout will exceed 30-40 percent in the forthcoming vote, despite government officials having forecasted the participation rate to be above 60 percent. 

Achieving such high participation levels seems improbable without electoral fraud, given the following factors:

Candidates critical of the government have been systematically barred from running, resulting in the absence of most reformist political parties in the elections.

Qualified candidates predominantly align with a single political faction deemed loyal to the government, but only a minority of Iranians back this faction.

Iran lacks an independent election commission or monitoring body. Elections are overseen by government representatives in the Ministry of Interior and are supervised by the Guardian Council. 

This body comprises six clerics appointed by the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic and six jurists approved by MPs from a list provided by the judiciary’s chief, who himself is an appointee of the supreme leader.

In the absence of international election monitoring, it is impossible to verify the accuracy of the statistics provided by the government and the Guardian Council. 

Candidate Vetting Process

According to the election law, individuals can run for parliament if they meet the following criteria:

Iranian citizenship.

Aged between 30 and 75 years.

Demonstrated practical commitment to Islam, jurisprudence and the constitution.

Loyalty to the Islamic Republic.

Possession of a master's degree or equivalent.

Minimum of five years of experience in government and public institutions, or in educational and research centers.

Lack of any criminal record or judicial convictions; good reputation within the constituency.

The election law does not provide specific examples or definitions for terms such as "practical commitment to Islam, jurisprudence and the constitution," "loyalty to the Islamic Republic," or "having a good reputation." 

Constitutionally, election oversight falls under the authority of the Guardian Council.

Under the election law, the council holds the authority for "discretionary supervision" and "verification of candidate qualifications,” meaning that it possesses the discretion to approve or disqualify would-be candidates at will, without any form of accountability. 

In the past, the Guardian Council rejected the eligibility of candidates for the posts of president, parliament speaker and MPs. 

As a result, the majority of citizens are deprived of the right to candidacy, with only a minority of individuals loyal to the leader of the Islamic Republic retaining this privilege.

Approximately 25,000 individuals announced their candidacy ahead of the March 1 elections, yet the Guardian Council rejected around 10,000 would-be candidates. 

This occurred despite the fact that many political figures and members of reformist parties opted not to register for the elections due to their familiarity with the Guardian Council's procedures. 

Political activists opposed to the Islamic Republic generally abstain from registering for elections due to legal restrictions prohibiting their involvement in political activities.

The Role of Parliament in the Legislative System

According to the constitution, the parliament serves as the sole legislative body in Iran. All parliamentary resolutions become binding only after approval by the Guardian Council. 

The Guardian Council's primary responsibility is to ensure that parliament's decisions align with both the constitution and Islamic Sharia law. 

The Guardian Council does not possess the authority to create legislation, its sole role being to review and approve parliament resolutions, provided they do not contravene constitutional or Islamic principles.

In recent years, the parliament’s legislative authority has faced limitations because the power to formulate overarching policies across various domains lies with the leader of the Islamic Republic. 

Parliament resolutions must align with these established policies. In addition to the Guardian Council's oversight role, which focuses on ensuring alignment with constitutional and Islamic principles, the Expediency Discernment Council also scrutinizes parliament resolutions for consistency with overarching system policies.

The Expediency Discernment Council, whose members are directly appointed by the supreme leader, has the authority to invalidate parliament resolutions. 

Elections for the Assembly of Experts

Also on March 1, voters are due to cast their ballots to pick new members of the 88-seat Assembly of Experts. 

The Guardian Council has endorsed the qualifications of 144 out of approximately 650 candidates – less than two candidates per available seat in the Assembly of Experts.

In the election, the Guardian Council assesses the candidates’ expertise in ijtihad - an Islamic legal term referring to independent reasoning by an expert in Islamic law. 

The Guardian Council exercises discretionary authority in determining those qualified to run in the election, without any form of accountability. 

The council notably disqualified former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a long-standing member of the Assembly of Experts, and has yet to provide reasons for the move.

Furthermore, the jurists comprising the Guardian Council can stand as candidates in these elections, meaning that the election overseers evaluate the qualifications of their competitors.

Per the constitution, the Assembly of Experts is tasked with selecting, overseeing, and, if necessary, removing the supreme leader from office.

Typically, assembly members are appointed and represent the leadership in other governmental bodies. 

While the supreme leader is not accountable to the Assembly of Experts, its representatives meet annually with the leader, who provides guidelines for their actions. 

Moreover, the qualifications of Assembly of Experts candidates are determined by the leadership's appointees within the Guardian Council. 

In summary, elections within the Islamic Republic lack transparency and fairness, and they are orchestrated and manipulated as a result. 

Iran ranks 153rd in the Democracy Index 2023, followed by only 14 countries worldwide.

Elections in Iran serve primarily to consolidate power among loyalists to the supreme leader, manage public sentiment and preserve the regime's international standing. 

Consequently, these elections fall far short of democratic standards.

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