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Official Predicts Low Turnout In Iran's February Elections


Iranian men cast their ballots at a polling station in Tehran on February 26, 2016. Like other public events, voting spaces are also gender-segregated.

Less than four months before Iran's Parliamentary elections, the government appears to be more concerned about suspicious funds in electioneering rather than a legitimacy crisis as a result of low turnout.

Iranian Interior Ministry's chief executive to run the country's parliamentary elections in February says the government's biggest concern about the election is the possibility of candidates using "dirty money" to win seats at the parliament (Majles).

Other Iranian officials including Guardian Council Chief Ahmad Jannati had also expressed concern previously about dirty money in election campaigns. Dirty money is the jargon for funds with no transparent origin.

Speaking to semi-official news agency ISNA, Jamal Orf , the chairman of the Iranian Elections Headquarters said the government is not concerned about the turnout in the Majles election as "there has been no organized initiative inside Iran to boycott the elections," adding that "all political groups will prefer to take part in the elections."

Iran's deputy interior minister in political affairs, Jamal Orf, in a press conference on June 18, 2019.
Iran's deputy interior minister in political affairs, Jamal Orf, in a press conference on June 18, 2019.

Mr. Orf made the comment while Iranian reformists have said on various occasions that they might choose not to take part in the elections if their candidates are not endorsed by the conservative dominated election watchdog Guardian Council.

However, Orf said that the reformists' consultation with the council has been relatively successful and "the Interior Ministry will also talk to the Guardian Council" to ensure that reformist candidates will get through the vetting process.

Orf predicted that the turnout in the Parliamentary elections in February will be somewhere between 50 to 60 percent. However, his prediction is that the turnout in February 2020 will be closer to 50 percent.

The highest turnout in a parliamentary election in Iran since 1979 has been 71% in 1996 when the reformists won the Majles and lowest figure was 51% in 2008 when hardliner conservatives experienced their landslide victory.

Since then, the general belief in Iran is that a high turnout will lead to a reformist victory while a low turnout would indicate a conservative triumph. Turnout figure in other elections has also confirmed this view.


In his interview with ISNA, Orf has confirmed another general belief. He said unlike Tehran and other major cities more voters will rush to the polls in small towns and villages where they vote based on tribal links rather than political affiliations. The government usually insists in rural areas that taking part in the election is a religious responsibility.

Although Orf rules out any concern in the government about the low turnout, he seems to be worried that it could reflect a lack of legitimacy for the regime for those who observe Iranian developments from abroad.

He said: "Because of the country's situation and the U.S. economic pressures on Iran, a low turnout has a different meaning abroad, so everyone should try to boost the turnout and eliminate the hinderances to political participation."

"We will have an acceptable turnout if we allow all those who have a right and have different views to take part in the elections," Orf said, alluding to discrimination against candidates who may not be in total compliance with the party line. He said this remark was backed by opinion poll results.

In recent months, various political activists have expressed their disillusionment over the poor performance and displaced loyalties of factions and political groups at the Majles. Observers have said that this may lead to people's indifference among potential voters in the upcoming Majles elections.

The official once again stressed the government's concern about the use of non-transparent or "dirty money" in the elections, adding that the Election Headquarters will monitor the funding of campaigns, adding that those using such funds may lose their qualification to run for the Majles.

Orf is deputy Interior Minister for political affairs. His previous positions include Chancellor of Imam Baqer University, chairman of the Center for Strategic Studies in National Security, and a member of the defense and security committee of the Expediency Discernment Council.

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