The portrait of an election in Iran

The Iranian regime must preserve the fiction of democracy and political participation to keep its revolution alive.

March 10, 2012 23:28
2 minute read.
Iranian election officials at the ballot.

Iran election officials polls ballots 390. (photo credit: REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl )


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Iran’s 9th parliamentary election, held on Friday, March 2, was described by the country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the most sensitive vote in the history of the Islamic Republic.

The country’s first major vote since the controversial 2009 reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it was held while most of the democratic opposition’s prominent figures, including Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, were in prison or under house arrest. As a result, the race was open only to the handpicked candidates of the regime’s two conservative camps, one led by Ahmadinejad and another by Khamenei.

The Islamic regime’s state television broadcast rolling coverage of the polling stations on Friday, showing hundreds queuing up across the country to cast their ballots. But all foreign journalists were “bused” by authorities to handpicked polling stations, and the regime imposed harsh restrictions on journalists, not only while reporting but also when writing.

Then there’s the fact that, fearing a cut in direct subsidies if they didn’t comply, many poor Iranian families were forced to vote by a message sent nationwide by the authorities via SMS.

A near-final result released by the Interior Ministry on Sunday evening showed the conservative camp loyal to Khamenei had taken over 75 percent of the 290 seats in parliamentary elections in Tehran, provincial towns and countryside. The ministry reportedly announced that the exact makeup of the new parliament would be known in April following runoff elections for more than 30 seats. The authorities also announced that voter turnout was over 64%, higher than for the 2008 parliamentary vote at 57%.

With the result of Friday’s vote, the political marriage between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei was officially dissolved. Ahmadinejad will likely face a more hostile parliament in his remaining two years in office, and Khamenei will likely face more stubborn resistance.

However, whatever the effect of Khamenei’s victory over Ahmadinejad on domestic Iranian politics, it is not expected to have an impact on foreign policy issues, such as the nuclear stand-off with the West.

The regime’s disregard for the human rights and democratic aspirations of Iranians will also remain unchanged.

More than at any time in its history, the Islamic regime is facing a legitimacy crisis, both at home and abroad. Whatever the result of future elections, most of the 48 million eligible Iranian voters have decided to boycott any kind of vote under the Islamic Republic. As a result, elections of any kind are the regime’s Achilles’ heel.

The writer is an Iranian journalist based in Central Asia.

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