Iranian elections 101

Iranian elections 101

“Iran is not Saudi Arabia,” Iranians always say. They hold elections and women can vote. Indeed, people turn out from time to time to vote for presidential elections, parliamentary elections and such. People vote, but whether every vote counts is a big question mark. And being “eligible” to be a candidate is a tough job.

This time there are two elections at the same time. Long queues formed in front of voting centers. Women seemed eager to vote this time; some young women were distributing pictures of Mir-Hossein Mousavi, a former reformist presidential candidate who is under house arrest today.

State TV IRIB did not air much about the election. And this means something. This is the rule: In any Iranian election when the turnout is high, reformists are elected; when the middle class does not vote, hardliners become the winners. So it is no surprise the IRIB has not done much with a higher turnout.  

Although presidential elections are usually more exciting, this election means a lot this time. Assembly of Experts members will be elected; those members will be electing the next Rahbar, after Ali Khamenei passes away. Also, parliamentary elections are taking place. There are 290 seats in the Iranian parliament and 149 seats are needed to form a majority. 

The result of the election will be a reference point for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. He is bit by bit mending relations with the West. He is trying to fight corruption within the state and trying to recover the messed up Iranian economy. 

You may observe the voters and conduct polls, but you can never know what the result will be. The 2009 presidential election was surely a benchmark in post-revolution Iranian history. Mousavi was the reformist candidate and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the principilist. Middle-class neighborhoods were cheering with Mousavi speeches. He was basically saying the slogan “Marg bar Amrika” (Down with America) was not doing well for anyone. He was claiming Iran should become a rational international actor, cooperating with neighboring states such as Turkey, instead of Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela. He was talking about unemployment, corruption and the hopelessness Iranian youths feels. Ahmadinejad answered all this discourse with a file he waved in his hand on an Iranian TV show during a debate with Mousavi. Ahmadinejad yelled that evening, “Shall I show this?” 

Mousavi’s wife, Zahra Rahnavard, used to be a Westernized feminist in the pre-revolution times, and when they met Ms. Rahnavard was famous for her miniskirts. So photographs of Rahnavard from those days were in the file, as everybody knew. That was the level then. You know the rest of the story: Ahmadinejad “won” the elections. People took to the streets claiming the election was rigged. The protests were brutally clamped down. 

A lot has changed since 2009. Now here is Iran again during an election period. Mousavi, his wife and another reformist politician, Mehdi Karroubi, all the prominent reformist figures of 2009, are under house arrest. They wanted to at least be able to cast their votes in their homes. 

Reformists are not anti-revolutionaries, they are part of the regime, but yet even they are not tolerated these days. Reformist candidates have not been able to join the election; most of such names were banned by the Guardian Council, the body that oversees the electoral process. Even Ruhollah Khomeini’s grandson was not allowed to join the election as a member of the Assembly of Experts. So the race is between the moderates and the hardliners. There are reformist figures in moderate’s lists but also principilist figures are on the list, such as Ali Larijani. 

Moderates are after a kind of glasnost. Complying with peoples’ demands for more democracy will save the regime from a moderate point of view. Hardliners think the opposite. This camp thinks any kind of democratic demand is actually coming from the “Satanic West.”

However, most political figures are aware a considerable part of the youth is not happy with the situation. People keep asking why the regime keeps financing Lebanese Hezbollah and Hamas in Gaza, as inflation keeps rising and officers keep being paid ridiculously low salaries. People keep asking why Iranian soldiers keep dying on Syrian soil. 

Iran is not usually what is seems. The political elite are aware of that, and they want to avoid opening Pandora’s Box.