“Voting is not only a revolutionary and national responsibility, but it is also a religious duty,” Iran's state television quoted Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei saying in a speech this week.
Contrary to what the theocracy's leader dictated, the Iranian regime will have a tough time on Friday to get a large turnout in parliamentary elections.
Domestically loathed by many, riddled with corruption, moribund and incapable of finding real solutions to people's concerns, the Iranian regime hangs around like a zombie.
Iran is a powder keg following the ruthless suppression of nationwide protests in the country last November – during which the regime killed up to 1,500 demonstrators, based on reports from Iranian opposition group MEK’s network inside Iran, and later by a Reuters report.
Following the dangerous unrest, Khamenei does not want to take the risk of playing the good cop, bad cop game in this election between so-called moderates or reformists on one side and hardliners on the other.
The Guardian Council, which is fully controlled by Khamenei, rejected many moderate or conservative candidates who expressed minor objections to Khamenei's domestic and foreign policies. About a third of current lawmakers have also been barred from running again.
Khamenei has consistently said that voting in Iran's elections means endorsing the whole political establishment.
Some Iran experts argue that the regime needs to have a high turnout considering its critical situation. As there are no independent election observers in Iran, it will not come as a surprise if its interior ministry announces a popular turnout around 65 per cent on Friday.
Many activists, including myself experienced vote-rigging during the 2009 controversial presidential election. I was the representative of one of the candidates at the polling station. A day after the election, the official number of votes for the ballot boxes was announced. It was three times the vote we had counted.
It seems the same scenario is going to repeat itself. Abdolhossein Rouholamini, a hardliner close to the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC), has said that turnout of the election would be about 60 per cent.
"Revolutionary forces will form the Eleventh Parliament and shelf those who are tired and incapable", Mr Rouholamini stressed in an interview with Tabnak News Agency on Monday February 17. He also went on to reassure that the next parliament would not be divided.
Predicting what exactly is in Khamenei’s mind is tricky but he likely aims for the following two scenarios:
First, strengthen the atmosphere of repression
The regime is preparing itself for the next ten months (until the U.S. presidential election in November), which is the most crucial period for the theocracy's existence.
Although the regime was able to temporarily suppress the nationwide anti-regime protests in November, it has deepened the cleavages between officials. Khamenei has decided to end splits between the regime’s factions by completely isolating so-called moderates and reformists.
Furthermore, after the killing of the IRGC Qods commander, Qassem Soleimani, the regime needs to rebuild its broken hegemony both inside the country and in the region.
It is likely that some of the regime's ideological forces have lost their ambitions over regional goals and the effectiveness of domestic suppression because of splits between officials and IRGC commanders.
Thus, Khamenei has decided to form a fully controlled parliament and a massive purge will likely happen within the IRGC. This consolidation of power will also target president Hassan Rouhani's men in order to harness him.
We have to wait and see whether Rouhani resists the purge or becomes a puppet in the hands of Khamenei.
This internal power consolidation aims to save the regime from an overnight revolution. Solving the economic crisis needs starting a dialogue with President Donald Trump but it is fatal for a broken and divided regime to negotiate based on Washington’s conditions that target the theocracy’s fundamental pillars.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s 12+1 preconditions for an agreement, which target one of the theocracy’s fundamental pillars; building and maintaining a regional militant network. Indeed, Khamenei prepares his regime to negotiate with a re-elected Trump under unpleasant conditions.
Second, a long-term plan for Khamenei's succession
The Iranian regime's Supreme Leader is over 80 years old with a history of cancer, which challenges his long-term health.
Apart from current crises, Khamenei is concerned about his family as well as the regime’s future. Massive purges within the political establishment can help someone who is loyal to Khamenei to assume power after his death. Khamenei is seriously worried about his family as he himself eliminated or isolated the family of the founder of the regime, Rouhollah Khomeini.
Thus, Khamenei seeks a security guarantee from the West in future negotiations. We cannot predict what guarantees he seeks but at least the regime needs to abandon nuclear ambitions and regional mischief, if current U.S. policy holds.
Changing its nature from a regime which meddles in and tries to control neighboring countries and aims for global expansion, like Nazi Germany, to one that is notoriously known for oppressing its own people, like Franco’s Spain, can be a "reasonably acceptable" option for both sides.
But it is not clear whether Trump, if re-elected, would be keen to negotiate with the Islamic Republic nor is the U.S. administration able to give such guarantees.
However, Khamenei would prefer to see Trump’s maximum pressure policy disappear. Last week, foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Munich met with Democratic Senator Chris Murphy in what many saw as a lobbying attempt with American politicians.
What is evident is the level of oppression inside Iran will intensify dramatically especially when the IRGC views the world’s passive policy regarding the massacre of protesters in November last year as a green light to continue the same path.