Iranians set to stay home as presidential polls open
Iran’s 13th presidential election will be held on Friday and any Iranian citizen over the age of 18 can vote. The first issue concerning this election is to understand that it is not democratic, fair and free by any means. Instead, it is tightly managed by the nation’s top authorities. Of the 592 individuals who registered to run in the election, only seven were approved by the unelected clerical body the Guardian Council. Of these seven candidates, five are hard-liners: Alireza Zakani, Mohsen Rezaee, Saeed Jalili, Ebrahim Raisi and Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh. Only Abdolnaser Hemmati and Mohsen Mehralizadeh, both low-profile political figures, are considered “reformists.” Jalili, Zakani and Mehralizadeh all reportedly dropped out of the running this week.
Raisi is the candidate favored by the top decision-makers in the regime, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the senior cadre of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). He is a staunch supporter of Khamenei and the regime’s military institutions and revolutionary principles. It is also believed that Khamenei considers Raisi to be his potential successor.
The regime will attempt to project that it enjoys legitimacy during this election. Government employees will be instructed to go to the ballots in order to show the popularity of the regime, while the authorities may manipulate the statistics in order to show a high voter turnout.
But the actual turnout is expected to be the lowest in the history of the regime. Soraya, a student at Tehran University, told me: “The government is telling people to vote. But I see voting as an insult. We are not going to vote in order to show the world that we Iranians are frustrated with this clerical establishment. We are not with a government that shoots down a passenger plane (Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, which was downed by the IRGC in January 2020), lies repeatedly, and kills and tortures its own citizens. We are not with a government that steals the nation’s natural resources and spends it on its militias. The old game of moderate or hard-liner is over. They are all the same.”
The regime is concerned about the possibility of a low turnout. According to state-run daily newspaper Ghatreh, Iranian official Hassan Abassi even suggested this month that the regime should not have elections at all.
Nevertheless, there could be a slight chance of a surprise in the election. Since it is evident that the regime wants Raisi to win, the Iranian people may go to the ballots and vote for another candidate, most likely former Central Bank of Iran governor Hemmati, as a form of resistance and to deliver a blow to the top leaders of the regime.
For many in Iran, elections are known as a choice between bad and worse or between the lesser of two evils.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
The Iranian people have shown in previous elections that they may utilize whatever limited resources are available to them to defy the government. For many Iranians, elections are known as a choice between bad and worse or between the lesser of two evils. If many people do vote and elect Hemmati, there is an expectation that the regime may rig the numbers and still announce Raisi as the winner. This scenario occurred in 2009, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was awarded the election in spite of evidence that Mir Hossein Mousavi received a majority of the votes. This outcome led to the Green Movement and widespread protests across the country.
Finally, one should not expect any dramatic change in Iran’s domestic or foreign policies with the election of a new president. Many people thought that the so-called moderate Hassan Rouhani would alter Iran’s policies and improve the Iranian people’s rights. But his eight-year presidency has shown otherwise. The regime has continued its support for militia and terror groups across the Middle East, including the Houthis in Yemen. Tehran has also continued to interfere in Arab countries’ domestic affairs, including in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. In addition, the rights and economic situation of the Iranian people have worsened under Rouhani’s tenure. Even when the “reformist” Mohammed Khatami was president, Iran’s policies remained the same.
In the four-decade history of the regime, no president has altered its core character or central pillars, partially due to the fact that they are insiders and the supreme leader is the final decision-maker in Iran.
In summary, expect low voter turnout and no dramatic or fundamental change in Iran’s foreign or domestic policies with the election of a new president.
- Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh