Accessibility links

Breaking News

To Vote Or Not To Vote? Protests Leave Iranians Undecided About Elections

Young protesters carrying away a comrade during fierce protests in Shiraz, Iran. November 2019

The mid-November protests in Iran, during which hundreds of protesters were killed by security forces, changed many things, some forever. Among other things, it has drastically changed the attitude of many politicians and ordinary people toward elections in the country.

Posts on social media reflect an explosive blend of disillusionment, frustration, anger, and even lost confidence among those whose belief in the Islamic Republic appeared to be unshaken until quite recently. The slogans chanted in the streets were self-explanatory. They targeted the core of the establishment loud and clear while protesters distanced themselves from all of the leading political factions.

Ali Rabiei, a former intelligence operative who currently serves as the spokesperson for the Rouhani administration, has said: "After the November [unrest] elections can no longer be held in Iran in the way we used to", Etemad Online quoted him as saying, adding that "We need to follow the model of the first Majles election" in 1980 when the Guardian Council was still not commissioned to vet the candidates.

This was the first ever acknowledgement by a state official in Iran about the impact of the November anti-government protests on the upcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled to be held in February 2020.

In an indication of the voters' general attitude toward the elections, pro-reform Asr Iran website ran an opinion poll asking voters which candidates they are likely to vote for. Most of those who took part in the poll (over 63 percent of more than 24000 people as of December 8) ticked "none of the above" which was a cautious way to say they are not going to take part in the elections.

Nevertheless, some politicians, including reform figures in Iran such as Mostafa Tajzadeh and Abbas Abdi insist that there is no way out of Iran's ongoing problems other than resorting to ballot boxes. But many have their doubts about the validity of this argument.

An ultraconservative who also believes in the power of ballot boxes, regardless of many people's doubt, is former President Ahmadinejad's aide Abdolreza Davoudi who registered his candidacy from his cell in Evin Prison.

Iran-based journalist Javad Heydarian tweeted: "I will not take part in the elections as the Majles has lost its functionality, and its existence, or the lack of it, will not affect my political, social and even my private life."

Outspoken reformist MP Parvaneh Salahshouri, apologized to voters for not registering as a candidate for the next Majles while mentioning "limitations in the political structure that restrict the authority of the Majles."

Noting that "legitimacy" is the pivotal point in the upcoming elections, Bahareh Rahnama, a reformist activist tweeted: "By taking part in the election We cannot buy legitimacy for a regime that kills the people."

On the other hand, activist Emad Behavar who has registered as a candidate, wrote that he has done so to exercise his right of "electing and being elected," stressing that all Iranians should enjoy this right.

Hardline political figure Alireza Zakani also registered as a candidate from Qom. Reporters asked him to name a couple of neighborhoods in the city, but the former MP from Tehran evaded answering as he obviously did not know the town he hopes to represent at the Parliament.

In a comment criticizing the large number of unknown candidates for the next Majles, Iraj Jamshidi, an Iranian journalist, wrote jokingly that it appears there are more candidates than voters in the upcoming election.

In spite of the large number of those who have registered as candidates (over 14,000), there is a strong belief among analysts in and out of Iran that the turnout in February will be considerably low.

  • 16x9 Image

    Behrouz Turani

    Behrouz Turani is a British-Iranian writer and journalist as well as a consultant on Iran's political dynamics and the Iranian media landscape.