Raisi strengthened by elections but Iran’s political system weakened

Raisi strengthened by elections but Iran’s political system weakened

Raisi strengthened by elections but Iran’s political system weakened
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a news conference. (AFP/File)
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Iran’s parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections, held on March 1, witnessed the lowest voter turnout since the Iranian revolution in 1979. This was not a surprise given the engineering process behind the elections, which led to the widespread disqualification of moderate and reformist candidates. Given such a limited choice, most Iranian voters lost hope of any meaningful economic or political change through the ballot box.
These elections were nevertheless important in the context of the political battle to succeed aging Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. They offered an opportunity for President Ebrahim Raisi to position himself as the favored candidate of the system (nezam) to become the next supreme leader.
According to an audio leak of a university class that was delivered by former Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, two former top officials of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps orchestrated the elections. Zarif claimed Hossein Taib, the former head of the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization, and Mohammed Ali Jafari, the former commander-in-chief, were “on top of everything” during the votes. He also criticized the reformists, accusing them of extremism and of driving Khamenei toward the hard-liners.
This orchestration of the elections may have been carried out by the Iranian security apparatus, but it appears that the hard-liners’ control of all political institutions provoked popular disaffection toward the elections. According to Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi, 25 million voters participated in the parliamentary elections, a turnout of 41 percent. This is below the rate of 42.5 percent in the 2020 elections, which the government blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic. In Tehran, the capital, just under a quarter of voters reportedly took part in the electoral process.
During the two ballots, 245 lawmakers (out of 290) were elected in the first round, as well as all 88 members of the Assembly of Experts. The percentage of blank ballots was announced by Vahidi at 5 percent and that of invalid ballots at 8 percent (without giving additional details or the exact number of votes). The second round of elections should take place in May. According to the IRNA news agency, the provinces of Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad, South Khorasan, Hormozgan and North Khorasan recorded the highest participation rates, while the provinces of Alborz, Kurdistan, Kermanshah, Tehran and Markazi experienced the lowest rates.
Raisi entered the Assembly of Experts from the eastern South Khorasan province with 275,000 votes. He was largely elected thanks to his constituency in South Khorasan, with 70 percent of the votes. He faced a single opponent, who was hastily designated after the elimination by the Guardian Council of all other candidates. Sources close to the president who had their views published in the newspaper of the Iranian presidency, however, estimated the votes in his favor at 82.5 percent or 84 percent.
Raisi thanked the Iranian people for their “wise and well-timed” presence in the elections and for bringing “despair and disillusionment to the enemies” of Iran, who had spent “billions of dollars” to undermine the elections. State-affiliated media outlets played down the low turnout and boasted of victory.
State television argued that, in most countries, turnout in parliamentary elections ranges between 40 percent and 50 percent. Tasnim News Agency, which is close to the IRGC, said the 25 million votes cast indicated that the massive election boycott campaign, supposedly created overseas and supported by radical groups inside the country, had failed. 

It appears that the hard-liners’ control of all political institutions provoked popular disaffection toward the elections.

Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami

Many of the winning candidates were members of the Paydari (Steadfastness) Front, the so-called principlists, which favors a state-controlled economy. They are more hawkish on foreign policy and want Iran to grow closer to non-Western powers, namely China and Russia. They are in favor of a rigid implementation of Khomeinist revolutionary principles.
Also, it is worth noting that Mohammed Khatami, the former president, did not vote for the first time. Moreover, another former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, voted only at 10 p.m. after an extension of the opening hours of the polling stations. Finally, former President Hassan Rouhani exercised his right to vote despite the rejection of his candidacy for the Assembly of Experts.
In Tehran, Mahmoud Nabavian, Hamid Rasaei and Amir-Hossein Sabeti, who are close to the ultraconservative Endurance Front, beat parliament Speaker Mohammed Bagher Qalibaf. His fourth-place result will complicate his reelection as speaker.
The unelected candidates included Mohammed-Reza Bahonar, a conservative from Kerman, Mohammed-Bagher Nobakht, a moderate from Rasht, and Tehran’s Ali Motahari, the head of the only moderate list, Voice of the Nation. According to the Etemad newspaper, 35 moderate lawmakers were elected around the country, including Masoud Pezeshkian in Tabriz and Gholamreza Nouri-Ghezeljeh in Bostanabad. They could therefore constitute a particularly small minority in the next parliament.
In the Assembly of Experts elections, the Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qom’s list obtained the most votes. Among the well-known figures who were elected were Ahmad Alamolhoda, the Friday prayer imam of Mashhad and father-in-law of Raisi, and Ahmad Khatami, the Friday prayer imam of Tehran.
The big loser was Sadeq Larijani, the current president of the Expediency Council, who was a candidate in Mazandaran. Of the five candidates for the four seats in this constituency, he was the only one not to be elected to the assembly. Another unsuccessful candidate was Mostafa Pourmohammadi, whose candidacy was firstly rejected and then approved by the Guardian Council — unlike Rouhani, who was eliminated before the election.
Overall, the results of both elections were the product of a closely engineered victory for the ultrahard-liners. Consequently, conservative domination will be stronger and the hard-liners will maintain their monopoly over all the main levers of political power in Iran. Raisi now appears to be the favorite to become the next supreme leader. He will be one of the members of a committee of three appointed by Khamenei to determine his successor. Apparently, the current supreme leader is not supporting the idea of his son, Mojtaba Khamenei, succeeding him. These favorable internal political dynamics for Raisi are not surprising because the current supreme leader was also president when he succeeded Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989.
It remains to be seen if the smooth succession of 1989 can be repeated, given the high level of popular discontent in 2024 and the strong influence of the IRGC and its principlist political allies in today’s political system in Iran.

Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is the founder and president of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah).
X: @mohalsulami

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