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Iran - Election 2020

The 21 February 2020 polls will elect Iran’s 11th Iranian Islamic Consultative Assembly. Iran has a unicameral Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majles-e Shoraye Eslami) with 290 seats. In the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majles-e Shoraye Eslam) 290 members are directly elected in single- and multi-seat constituencies by a two-round vote, with members serving 4-year terms. Additionally, five seats are reserved for a representative of religious minorities, including Zoroastrians, Jews, Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, and Armenian Christians. All candidates to the Islamic Consultative Assembly must be approved by the Guardian Council, a 12-member group of which 6 are appointed by the Supreme Leader and 6 are jurists nominated by the judiciary and elected by the Assembly.

In Iran, although political parties exist, larger coalitions often more accurately reflect political organization and structure, with the primary divide being between principalists, who advocated for power of the supreme leader, and more progressive-minded reformists. The larger focus is not on political parties (although they do exist), but rather on whether or not the upcoming election will allow the moderates to retake more seats, or if the fundamentalists will retain control.

While there was good participation in the two previous rounds of parliamentary elections, in February 2016 and May 2017, this is not the expectation for the next one. Iran’s Reformist leader, former President Seyed Mohammad Khatami, admitted as much when he met 18 March 2019 with Reformist parliament members. “No one will listen to our call to come to the ballot boxes anymore,” he said. Conservatives say that shows the Reformists know they haven’t fulfilled their promises from past elections and the public is disappointed with their performance.

The sanctions have driven away foreign investors and have contributed to a precipitous fall in the Iranian currency, the rial, and a major shrinking of the economy -- which the International Monetary Fund predicts will have contracted by a whopping 9.5 percent over the course of 2019. Iran's troubles were sharpened in November by violent protests triggered by a significant state-enforced hike in the price of gasoline. The outbreak of demonstrations against the price increase spread to at least 100 cities and towns nationwide where many protesters chanted slogans against Iran's top political and religious leaders, poverty, and state corruption while banks, government buildings, and police cars were set alight amid the protesters' rage.

The government responded with full force: at least 308 people were killed, according to Amnesty International, thousands injured, and some 7,000 were detained, according to a lawmaker. Reuters reported anonymous government officials saying some 1,500 people had died during the protests, though that figure could not be confirmed.

The parliamentary elections scheduled for February 21 will be a challenge for Iran, which needs a high turnout to boast it has public support at a time of intense internal and external pressure. But a crisis of legitimacy -- the most serious since the 2009 crackdown on peaceful protesters challenging a disputed presidential election -- could lead to a lower turnout than usual that would damage the clerical establishment even further.

For now, there hasn't been any major call for a boycott, but on social media sites some Iranians have asked whether it makes sense to vote for an establishment that does not shy away from killing its citizens. "When people lose their lives while protesting, we cannot participate in the elections and buy legitimacy for a system that has killed [people]," Bahareh Hedayat, a prominent student activist and women's rights activist who spent several years in prison, said on Twitter on December 6.

Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, a former spokesman for the government of reformist ex-President Mohammad Khatami, said on December 6 that "the country has reached such a stage that only free elections will return it to the right path." He said trying to run as a candidate in the elections was "meaningless" due to the vetting process by the powerful hard-line Guardians Council, which has a stellar record in all previous elections of banning pro-reform and independent candidates from running.

The elections could provide the whole system with an opportunity. That is to say, this time the fate of a nation, not a system and a totality in the name of Iran, nor a political system in the name of the Islamic Republic of Iran, is at stake. In this situation, only part of it comes back to the public, and most of it not to the people, but to the system, to show people that they have heard people. It recognizes dissatisfaction, does not exaggerate, and does not interpret malevolent boundaries and malice and really decided to bring this organized, structural and institutionalized discrimination into the political system. Many Iranians have been disillusioned with the reformists due to their failure to bring meaningful changes to society. Some have said on social media that voting doesn’t make sense.

The Guardians Council, which vets all election candidates, disqualified some 9,000 of the 14,000 who registered to run in the elections, including 90 current lawmakers. A reformist political activist said in late January 2020 that 90 percent of the reformist candidates throughout the country had been barred from running in the February 21 elections. Hamid Saberian, a political deputy to the head of the reformist Consultative Party, said on January 20 that the upcoming elections will be an “intra-factional vote” due to a mass disqualification of pro-reform candidates. "Principalists will be competing against each other." The elections will be competitive, with some 17 people on average competing for each of parliament’s 290 seats.

The mass disqualifications had a dual purpose for Khamenei. First, to weaken President Hassan Rouhani, his ally outgoing Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, and their supporters and second, secure a loyal parliament to gain more control in the upcoming 2021 presidential election. In the short term, should Ali Larijani run for and win the presidential election in 2021, a parliament hostile to Larijani secures the overall checks and balances within the system. In the longer term, a uniform parliament makes political succession after Khamenei easier for the regime.

In a country of 83 million people, there are about 58 million eligible voters who are over 18 years old. However, most analysts expect low turnout, and caution that the Iranian regime will claim victory regardless of the actual results. People are left with little to no option but to choose from a narrow selection of hardline candidates, it’s highly likely that the turnout will be quite low.

Iran’s interior ministry announced a 42.57 percent voter turnout in the parliamentary election, the lowest turnout since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The interior ministry released the figure on Sunday with unprecedented delay, but did not give a reason for the wait. The decision by Iranian authorities to hold back the final voter turnout count “means that they are having a hard time engineering vote results,” according to Behnam Taleblu, an expert on Iran at the Washington-based think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). Taleblu said the initial state figure of voter turnout is highly suspect, and that he believes turnout was even lower.

Conservative hardliners won about 70 percent of the seats in Iran's parliament following Friday's vote. The country's interior ministry announced the result as ballot counting ended on Sunday. More than 210 of 290 seats were taken by conservative hardliners who campaigned to stand up against the United States. Reformists and moderates who support President Hassan Rouhani won about 20 seats. Rouhani, who prefers dialogue with the international community, and his supporters, face a series of challenges. Iran's economy worsened under sanctions imposed by the US after Washington pulled out of the 2015 nuclear agreement.

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Page last modified: 24-02-2020 18:13:02 ZULU