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Why “elections” in Iran rendered no winner

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By Amir Basiri

After months of jockeying between the two ruling camps in Iran, the sham twin “elections” came to an end. The ruling elite Tehran were terrified of the outcome of the polls determining the structure of the 290-member parliament and 88-seat Assembly of Experts, an arcane body obligated on paper to select the country’s leading figure. While all senior officials literally begged the population for a high voter turnout, on the ground the Iranian people vastly boycotted the “elections.”

The ruling regime has an infamous history of resorting to vote rigging when faced with crises. In all instances, however, such measures have failed to render any winner from within, leaving the mullahs facing a dangerous lose-lose situation.


Behind the Scenes

To portray a scene of vast participation, officials packed the few loyalists into two or three polling stations in Tehran for foreign media coverage, while also herding foreign reporters to these sites. However, those able to roam around the capital freely painted a much different picture. This included a New York Times reporter who visited a polling station in southern Tehran.

“…the frustration of working-class voters with the economy is an equally important factor this year…the levels of disaffection are rising.

‘I do not vote because nobody has done anything for me,’ said a retired police officer. That was a common sentiment among voters in the city’s poorer south side, many of whom decided to register their protest by staying home. Several customers interviewed at the market said they would not even think of voting, pointing at corruption and the poor state of the economy.

‘Here, people don’t vote because they feel left out,’ said an individual selling children’s clothes. At a school near Shoosh Square in South Tehran, only a handful of voters filled in the 46 names that have to be written in for the two elections.”

Ballooned Participation

The results obtained by opposition activists from inside Iran confirm the New York Times piece. Reports from hundreds of polling stations in Tehran and across the country reflected extremely low turnout and a nationwide boycott.

Certain is the fact that this will not stop the regime from bloating actual voter participation figures. However, facts on the ground speak of an enormous blow to the entire regime. Forecasts of 70% participation went into thin air. Interior Minister Rahmani Fazli on Saturday claimed 61 to 62% of eligible voters turned out. Of course, nothing less is expected from a key establishment official.

Divisions Deepening, Already

Despite the massive vote rigging Iran is famous for, the fundamental question is how will the ruling elite emerge from this new development? If it claims this sham “elections” are a sign political-social legitimacy, then we should be witnessing increasing stability and rifts closing among the disputing parties. However, this would be naïve and a major faux pas. From these “elections” will emerge no winners, and instead, public abhorrence regarding the mullahs’ brass will soar, and divisions dangerously deepen amongst senior officials.

Interestingly, both camps of the so-called “hardliners” and “reformists” are already gloves off. Friday prayer imams, die hard loyalists of supreme leader Ali Khamenei and his “conservatives,” blared their usual rhetoric against the former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and his protégé, President Hassan Rouhani. The latter camp responded on Saturday when Rouhani lashed back in a press conference with the visiting Swiss President (hardly any stage to discuss such major domestic feuds).

“Our private sector has no room to work in. There are monopolies that must be set aside,” he said in a clear reference to the Revolutionary Guards’ grip over Iran’s failing economy.

The Boat is Sinking Fast

Yes, the results in the Assembly of Experts and parliament have been a turn of events. However, we should not be taken away. Evaluating Iran’s politics with a Western-style perspective is a mistake unfortunately made by many in the U.S. and Europe. Such a development may be healthy for a modern democracy in the 21st century. But Iran is anything but that and any such dispute will literally tear the ruling elite apart from within. Khamenei has most certainly lost his one-man rule hegemony, yet he will not succumb to all demands and definitely not go down without a fight. Both factions lost in these “elections” at the expense of the entire establishment. All the bickering parties are in one sinking boat.

These “elections” will not change anything in the Iranian people’s political or economic lifestyle, nor will it render any serious alteration from within the regime. The loser is the mullahs’ regime in its entirety, facing a growing crisis of increasing hatred from the Iranian people who now have legitimate demands.

Basiri is an Iranian human rights activist and supporter of democratic regime change in Iran. He tweets at @Amir_bas

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