Accessibility links

Breaking News

New Restrictions On Media As Conservatives In Iran Gear Up For Elections

Iranian men cast their ballots at a polling station in Tehran on February 26, 2016. Iranians voted across the country in elections billed by president Rouhani as vital for curbing conservative dominance in parliament.

The Iranian parliament (Majles) has approved new regulations that will impose further restrictions on Iran's strictly controlled media ahead of parliamentary elections slated to be held on February 21, 2020.

The regulations, which are part of the bill to amend the election law, defines new punishments for those who might ignore or undermine them. The punishments particularly target the media and election administrators, Iranian media reported on Tuesday April 16.

According to new regulations, the media should not publish any statements against candidates and avoid reporting possible withdrawal of candidacies. This applies to all audio-visual, print, and electronic media including social media, reported the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA).

Political groups and parties are no longer allowed to publish separate lists of their candidates if they are part of a coalition, in which case, it is the coalition that does all the publicity.

Iranian officials including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei have called for an election devoid of unnecessary excitement. Khamenei said in March he anticipates that foreigners may engineer social unrest in Iran in the election year.

Veteran conservative politician Mohammad Reza Bahonar said recently "It is worrying that some of those who wish to enter the next Majles election as candidates want to ride the waves of dissent running across society."

Ali Mohammad Naeeni, an adviser to the IRGC commander-in-chief Mhammad Ali Jafari said in December 2018 that he anticipates widespread civil disobedience in the run-up to the Majles elections. He added that in the meantime "the enemies" will focus on economic pressures Iranians feel.

Iran's already chaotic economy is expected to come under more pressure in the aftermath of the floods that have damaged farmlands, industry, infrastructure as well as homes and businesses all over Iran during the past three weeks. Preliminary estimates put damages as high as $7 billion for country besieged by sanctions.

Last week, Khabar Online website wrote that political figures and organizations have already started low-key campaigning for the Majles elections and the 2021 presidential elections.

According to Khabar Online, unlike their political rivals, conservatives are not concerned about "disqualification," as the Guardian Council favors conservative candidates. No one can register as a candidate unless his ideological credentials are approved by the council.

The website also wrote that conservative figureheads such as former Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, former IRGC Commander Mohsen Rezai and former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili might be willing to run for president although they have repeatedly lost in previous elections. They are also willing to create a solid power base at the Majles by arranging like-minded individuals to run for seats.

Many Iranians enthusiastically supported Rouhani in 2017. A campaign rally in the northwestern city of Ardabil, May 17, 2017
Many Iranians enthusiastically supported Rouhani in 2017. A campaign rally in the northwestern city of Ardabil, May 17, 2017

After a series of defeats in previous elections, conservative figureheads formed an alliance to end the problem of non-constructive competing candidacies during the months prior to the 12th Presidential elections in 2017. Although they did not win the election, yet winning 16,000,000 votes by hardline Ebrahim Raisi was some kind of a victory for them. There is every indication that Iranian conservatives are going to benefit from the lessons they learned in the 2017.

Currently the Majles is a combination of “conservatives” on one side and “reformists”, “moderates” who support President Hassan Rouhani. The next Majles may be a predominantly conservative Parliament as the reformists and moderates record in the past three years has disappointed many people. On the other hand, according to Khabar Online, there is every likelihood for a low turnout in the February election because of the political disillusionment created by reformists and moderates' inaction.

These groups raised expectations that they would moderate the regime’s social restrictions and allow more freedoms, but failed to take any meaningful action as the conservatives and the military managed to suppress more dissidents and even harmless civilians such as ecologists. Public disappointment might lead to low turnout and traditionally, since the 1980s, Iranian conservatives have won every election where there has been a low turnout.

Adding to the likelihood of a low turnout is grassroots disillusionment with the Rouhani administration which has failed to deliver on promises made during the past 6 years.

Anti-regime protests since December 2017 indicate that many ordinary Iranians reject both factions of the establishment as “Neither reformists nor conservatives” rang out in dozens of cities and towns.