Accessibility links

Breaking News

Khamenei Appears Not Shaken By Lowest Election Turnout In 40 Years

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei arrives to cast his vote at a polling station during parliamentary elections in Tehran, Iran February 21, 2020
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei arrives to cast his vote at a polling station during parliamentary elections in Tehran, Iran February 21, 2020

The turnout in the parliamentary elections in Iran last Friday has been the lowest since 1979 when the Islamic Republic was established. Nevertheless, the government does not seem to be concerned.

As usual, officials have blamed matters such as the spread of Coronavirus as the cause for the low turnout.

Iran's Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli has said the turnout was 42.5 percent and a document leaked out of the Ministry puts the figure at 41.8 percent which is not much lower than what the minister has said.

Earlier, Guardian Council Spokesperson Abbas Ali Kadkhodai had predicted a turnout lower than 50 percent, but officials probably did not expect it to be closer to 40 percent.

In the meantime, the conservatives who have are still busy celebrating their victory, and those who had boycotted the elections cannot protest in public for fear of repression.

The November protests, the escalation of tensions between Tehran and Washington and the resulting deep economic crisis as well as disappointment about Rouhani administration's performance were among the factors that led to such a low turnout.

Large-scale disqualification of candidates seen potentially as more independent also robbed the elections of their suspense and turned off many voters who saw the process as rigged.

Even the IRGC-linked news agency Fars acknowledged the extremely low turnout but attributed it to the Rouhani administration's weakness rather than to the overall disillusionment about the Islamic Republic.

Some opposition figures even maintain that the figure announced is way above the real figure.

Nevertheless, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his close aides do not seem to have been shaken by the development as they probably think the regime will soon leave behind the controversy about the elections. This decline in turnout is not likely to prompt Khamenei to change his domestic or foreign policies in the short run.

In a speech to his religious students after the elections, Khamenei praised the results as a victory and seemed indifferent to the low turnout.

On the other hand, influential groups in Iran, including reformists, are not in a position to exert pressure on Khamenei to change his path.

Nevertheless, the turnout has been high in some provinces where there are ethnic motivations for voting, and people usually follow a decision made by tribal chieftains. In Kohkiloyeh and Boyer Ahmad Province, where turnout has always been high, 72 percent of eligible voters took part in the election.

The official turnout figure has been 60% in Sistan and Baluchestan,59 percent in Ilam Province and 56 percent in Golestan Province.

Like Kohkiloyeh and Boyer Ahmad, Ilam has also had high turnouts previously. But the situation in Sistan and Baluchestan has been different before. The province had the lowest turnout in some elections and the highest turnout in some others. The reason could be attributed to rivalries between various Muslim sects.

In Northern Khorasan Province the turnout has been 53 percent, in Kerman Province 51 percent and in Ardabil Province 50 percent. In all other provinces the turnout has been lower than 50 percent.

The lowest turnout, 25.4%, was seen in Tehran Province. This is half of the figure in the previous round of the elections.

Turnout figures have been declining in the city of Tehran since 1979. Researchers believe turnout has always been lower in the cities with higher-educated and well-to-do people. This trend has changed occasionally, when there has been exceptional political motivation, or exceptionally popular candidates.

A report by ISNA's polling agency (ISPA) indicates that the higher the education level of voters in a region, the lower will be the turnout figures in that area.

So far, the lowest turnout figures for the Majles election were seen at the first, seventh and eight Parliamentary elections although the situation of vetting the candidates has been the same in various years.

However, it must have been the accrued disappointment of the past 20 years that has led to the lowest turnout ever in Iran in February 2020.

  • 16x9 Image

    Ehsan Mehrabi

    Ehsan Mehrabi is an Iranian journalist and an expert on Iran's domestic politics. Mehrabi was arrested with a group of other journalists on February 7, 2010 in Iran and served a one-year prison sentence. He resides in Germany and is a contributor to Radio Farda.