Iranians remain reluctant to go to the polls and the Supreme Leader is worried as voting day in the February 21 parliamentary elections is just around the corner.
Wednesday February 19 is the last day of campaigning and Thursday is the no-campaign day based on regulations. Yet Iranian voters don't seem to be thrilled by the idea of an approaching election.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reached out to Iranians for the second time in less than a week to go to the polling stations on Friday. Until last week he seemed not to be worried about the elections, but Tuesday morning, he was utterly concerned about the impact of the turnout in the elections on the legitimacy of his clerical rule.
He started his remarks during a meeting with hundreds of visitors from Tabriz on Tuesday by talking about the elections: "Elections strengthen the country. Look at how U.S. propaganda seeks to separate the people from the Islamic system. They create think tanks to plot this. They seek to distance the Iranian youth from the Islamic system, but they won’t succeed," he said.
Khamenei used his favorite argument to garner support by alluding to “enemies” and ever-present conspiracies.
"Enemies and friends are watching. Enemies want to see the result of these economic problems, the Westerners’ deceit in their promises to us, and the U.S. pressures on the people. Our friends watch with concern, but we always tell them not to worry. The Iranian nation knows what it’s doing," Khamenei added.
He stressed: "Taking part in the elections nullifies many of the vicious plots of the U.S. and the Zionist regime against Iran. These elections repel the schemes and ploys of the enemies of Iran."
"Iran should become stronger; this frustrates the enemy. One manifestation of strength is having a strong Majles. The more participation there is in the election, the stronger the Majles will be," Khamenei said.
Khamenei made the remarks while observers in Iran and abroad agree that widespread disqualification of Reformist candidates and division among the conservatives, have made a high turnout unlikely. At the same time, many Iranians seem to have lost their interest in the parliamentary elections as the political dynamics led by Ayatollah Khamenei has turned the legislature (Majles) into an inefficient body that has little if any role in determining the country's policies.
Meanwhile, based on observations on social media and the daily protests that have been going on in Iranian universities all along the past week, potential voters are badly affected by deadly events such as the bloody crackdown on November protests and the downing of an airliner in early January that they seem to have turned their backs to the men in power. The arrogant and aristocratic behavior of some of the candidates has worsened the situation.
The reformists who had threatened they will not take part in the election have published two lists of their candidates with no prominent figure in either one. The list presented by the pragmatist Executives of Construction group includes 30 names for Tehran but the other list published by members of 8 reformist parties includes around 20 names.
The conservatives on the other hand, have too many candidates and cannot get their heads together to narrow down the 11 lists they have presented to a single list that would mark their unity and increase their chances for a landslide victory in the elections.
One of the main elements of discord among conservative groups appears to be Tehran's former Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf. One of the two main conservative groups, the ultraconservative Paydari (steadfastness) Front does not want Qalibaf to be on the list as he has been implicated in a number of financial corruption cases. The other group, the Principlists Coalition Council is adamant to have Qalibaf as the leading candidate on the list.
In spite of several attempts to come up with a single list, the two organizations have failed to bring about a semblance of unity among Iran's right wing. Earlier, Paydari Front said it was prepared to unite with the Coalition Council based on "common principles." Qalibaf welcomed this position and said that the Coalition's list has not been finalized yet and that the Coalition is prepared to negotiate for unity.
According to Fars news agency, "Paydari leaders Morteza Aqa-Tehrani and Sadeq Mahsuli demanded that Qalibaf should be omitted from the list. Former Majles Speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel, who chairs the Coalition Council, opposed this suggestion and said that there could be a joint list in two versions headed by Qalibaf for the Coalition Council and by Aqa-Tehrani for Paydari. Mahsuli and Aqa-Tehrani rejected this suggestion. "
Qalibaf offered a counter-suggestion saying that he was prepared to withdraw from the list and take part in the election as an independent candidate, but the list for the conservative camp should be published with 29 names. The Coalition did not agree with this," Fars reported. As a result, Principlists will take part in the 2020 elections with at least two major lists although there are nine other less significant lists also around.
This cannot lead to anything but a low turnout and drag the election into a run-off slated for April 17, when all the candidates who failed to win at least 20 percent of the total number of votes cast will have to take part. Tehran's press on Tuesday predicted that no more than 5 percent of candidates in Tehran can win the elections in the first round although the tribal nature of rural societies will lead to more first round victories in the provinces except for major cities such as Mashad, Isfahan, Tabriz, Rasht and Shiraz.