Iran reports lowest turnout for general election since 1979

A woman wears a face mask as she casts her vote during parliamentary elections at a polling station in Tehran, Iran Feb. 21, 2020. (File/West Asia News Agency via Reuters)
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Updated 23 February 2020

Iran reports lowest turnout for general election since 1979

  • Conservatives look set for a landslide win in the 290-seat parliament
  • Authorities barred roughly half the candidates from contesting, experts say

DUBAI: Iran’s interior ministry on Sunday said voter turnout in last week’s parliamentary elections stood at 42.57%, the lowest ever since the country’s 1979 revolution that ushered in a Shiite clerical government to power.
The lower turnout is widely seen as a measure of how Iranians view the country’s government and signals possible widespread dissatisfaction with Iran’s clerical rulers and the system they preside over.
In comparison, turnout was nearly 62% in the 2016 elections. Turnout has consistently been above 50% since the country’s revolution some four decades ago.
Iran’s supreme leader and other senior officials had urged people to cast their ballots on Friday as a show of resistance in the face of US pressure and sanctions that have plunged the economy into recession.
Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said the lowest turnout from the vote was is the capital, Tehran, with just 25.4% of eligible voters casting ballots. He said the country voted under less-than-ideal circumstances, but nevertheless, “we believe that the number of votes and the turnout is absolutely acceptable.”
The elections took place under the threat of the coronavirus, which has killed eight people in Iran and infected 43 people across five cities, including Tehran. Iran reported its first case of the virus two days before the national polls.

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A range of crises has beset Iran in the past year, including widespread anti-government protests in November sparked by a rise in prices. There were also protests after the accidental downing of a passenger jet by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard amid heightened tensions with the US in January. Authorities initially tried to cover up the cause of the crash.
Voters also had limited options on Friday’s ballot, as more than 7,000 potential candidates had been disqualified, most of them reformists and moderates. Among those disqualified were 90 sitting members of Iran’s 290-seat parliament who had wanted to run for re-election.
President Hassan Rouhani had criticized the disqualification of so many moderates by the conservative Guardian Council, which is presided over by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Rouhani said the disqualification was akin to customers being told they have options but being offered just one brand at a store. Still, in the days leading up to the election, he had joined the chorus of official voices urging people to vote.
Iran’s supreme leader on Sunday accused enemy “propaganda” of trying to dissuade people from voting by amplifying the threat of the coronavirus. In remarks from his office in Tehran, Khamenei blamed the “negative propaganda” of Iran’s enemies for trying to discourage people from voting in Friday’s elections.
“Their media did not ignore the tiniest opportunity for discouraging people and resorting to the pretext of diseases and the virus,” he said.
Iran’s hard-liners won all 30 parliamentary seats in Tehran, state TV reported Sunday.
State TV also said that former Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, a top contender for the post of parliamentary speaker, was the top winner in the capital, with more that 1.2 million votes.
Nearly 58 million Iranians, out of a population of more than 80 million, are eligible to vote. More than 24 million voted. Almost half, or 48%, were women.
On the eve of the vote in Iran, the Trump administration sanctioned five election officials and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed the election as a “sham.”
Coronavirus clusters in Iran as well as in Italy and South Korea could signal a serious new stage in the global spread of the virus, which originated in China.
Starting Sunday, schools were shut down in Tehran and across 10 provinces for at least two days to prevent the spread of the virus. Authorities have stopped fans from attending soccer matches and closed movie theaters and other venues across the country until Friday.
Officials across Iran had encouraged people to vote in the days leading up to the election, even as concerns over the virus’ spread began to rise.
Iraq and Pakistan, which share borders with Iran, have taken preventive measures to limit the spread of the virus from Iranian travelers. Infected travelers from Iran already have been discovered in Lebanon and Canada. Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have also effectively barred Iranians from entry, impacting thousands of religious pilgrims and businessmen.
On Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif joked about shaking hands with his visiting Austrian counterpart Alexander Schallenberg and told reporters: “We have to shake hands with them, don’t worry I don’t have coronavirus.”
In his meeting with the Austrian foreign minister, President Hassan Rouhani quipped that US sanctions on Iran “are like the coronavirus” causing more fear than the reality, the official IRNA news agency reported. He urged Europe to resist US pressure.
Schallenberg is in Tehran amid efforts by European countries to keep alive Iran’s nuclear agreement with world powers. Regional tensions have steadily risen since the US withdrew from the landmark deal.


Turkey tightens control on social media platforms

Updated 3 min ago

Turkey tightens control on social media platforms

  • Failure to comply with the requirements could shrink their access by Turkish users by up to 95 percent

ISTANBUL: Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter will be legally bound to appoint a formal representative in Turkey under a new draft law that will be brought to the country’s parliament soon.

The bill is initially designed for the government’s fight against the spread of the coronavirus, but it covers clauses about social media restrictions.

According to the experts, if adopted, this bill will pave the way for exercising government pressure on the platforms.

Failure to comply with the requirements could shrink their access by Turkish users by up to 95 percent. The social media platforms are also obliged to share users’ information with the prosecutors’ office when required.

They will also have to execute decisions coming from the criminal courts for “content removal” and/or “access denial” without any exception. Even individuals may apply to state authorities to ask the platforms to remove content. The platforms could be fined up to 1 million Turkish lira if they do not comply with the request within 24 hours.

It is still unclear whether news outlets with social media sites will also have to abide by these requirements.

Last August, the state-run Turkish Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) was officially granted the authority to regulate and monitor online platforms, including series on digital TV platforms such as Netflix, news broadcasts on YouTube and social media platforms delivering news on a regular basis. Those broadcasting online were obliged to get a license first from RTUK. According to that legislation, overseas companies who broadcast in Turkey on the internet are also required to establish a company and obtain a license.

Dr. Sarphan Uzunoglu, a scholar at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University and editor in chief of NewsLabTurkey.org, said it had long been the wish of the Turkish government to keep Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Twitter — as some of the most-used social networks in the country — under control.

“This new draft that will be brought to the parliament is a concrete step toward making Turkey’s digital sphere more controllable than ever for the government,” he told Arab News.

According to Uzunoglu, it is natural that Twitter, Facebook, Google and others are questioned by governments worldwide due to their financial activities and uncontrolled flow of money worldwide.

“Some responsible governments and politicians always question this shady feature of social networks. However, unfortunately, Turkey is not one of these countries or Turkish politicians aren’t the kind of politicians that think (about) the privacy of individuals. All they want is clearly a person who will be like an ambassador for the brand in their country whom they can get in touch with on a regular basis,” he said.

The bill also requires that all data about Turkish social media users be stored in Turkey.

Uzunoglu thinks that the daily routine of such a representative will not be very different from the life of the US ambassador in the time of crisis between US and Turkey.

“The only difference is, the government will try to keep this person and social network for everything in the platform. So that will be a disaster for both the operation of the social platform and the democracy of the country. And unlike an ambassador, the national law system in Turkey will be imposed on them. So, Facebook or Twitter won’t be different from any other web site active in Turkey,” he said.

Turkey has also increased control over social media during the coronavirus outbreak. More than 400 people have been arrested for “provocative” posts on their social media accounts about the virus.

Turkey has blocked access to social media platforms several times in the recent past, especially after the military deployments to Syria.

As social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter host the remaining free-speech platforms and provide an alternative information flow, Uzunoglu thinks that being forced to give away data about their users will be an attack on individual privacy.

“This definitely shows that the government is living in a completely different reality, or they imagine to live in a completely different world,” he said.

Uzunoglu also drew attention to the problematic timing of the move, especially under the extraordinary conditions caused by COVID-19.

“Just think about the Internet freedom related activism of the early 2010s when people went into the streets for the first time to protect Internet freedom. Comparing it to the self-isolation period that we are experiencing right now, it would be naive to think that it is just coincidental,” he said.