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Voter Disillusionment And Domination By Hardliners Mar Iran's Next Elections

Students at Tehran University protesting during President Hassan Rouhani's speech urging them to show interest in upcoming elections. October 16, 2019

President Hassan Rouhani has called on Iranian university students to lend their energy and rigor to the campaigns ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections in Iran.

Rouhani made the remarks during an eventful presence at a ceremony October 16, to mark the beginning of the academic year in Iran, while angry students on campus were demanding an opportunity to voice their ideas about the state of affairs in the country.

The chancellor of the university explained that no speech by the students has been planned for the occasion, but a number of students continued their protest during and after Rouhani's speech.

Rouhani said, with all the flaws involved in the process of elections in Iran, still the ballot box provides the best opportunity for Iranians to have their voices heard about the way the country is being managed.

"It is through the ballot box that we can make sure the right elite will rule the society," Rouhani said, adding "We have no solution for the country's problems other than the ballot box. We need to have an election with a high turnout although you might say there are problems in the way the elections are held".

Rouhani’s pleading with students stemmed from a clear perception by many that people are disillusioned with the establishments and see Iran’s state-controlled elections as a hindrance to real alternatives.

But Rouhani continued his pitch, saying we need to elect the wisest people who have a good understanding of the country's problems, he said, ignoring to mention that the people can only choose their representatives after the Guardian Council narrows down their choices by vetting prospective candidates.

Reform-minded political figures have said in many occasions during the past months that they cannot even think of taking part in the Majles elections in February unless the Guardian Council can gives them some assurance that notable reformists will be allowed to run for parliament.

Rouhani called on "anyone who believes to be eligible to become a candidate regardless of the possibility that might they be told" by the Islamic Republic's election watchdog that "they can or cannot run."

Iranians voting in February 2016 in parliamentary elections that was a defeat for conservatives but delivered little for the people.
Iranians voting in February 2016 in parliamentary elections that was a defeat for conservatives but delivered little for the people.

He said, "a spectacular election with a high turnout can increase our political power. This will show our enemies that the people have hope in the political system [regime's] future."

Rouhani was alluding to the fact that an election with a high turnout lends legitimacy to the regime.

In recent weeks, political figures such as reformist commentator Sadeq Zibakalam have maintained that the reformists' biggest problem is convincing the voters to take part in the upcoming elections.

Zibakalam told Fararu website that reformists should first determine their strategy for taking part in the elections. He said: "Before naming their candidates, they should think of strategies to convince their social base and supporters to take part in the election as people are unhappy about the performance of the current reformists at the Majles. Otherwise, writing a list of candidates regardless of whose name is on the list is no longer important."

Iran -- Sadegh Zibakalam, professor of political science, undated.
Iran -- Sadegh Zibakalam, professor of political science, undated.

Professor Zibakalam said: "Currently, the reformists' big problem is encouraging the people to take part in the elections while they have not delivered on the promises they have made in recent years. "

Elsewhere in the interview, he continued: "In my opinion most of current reformists at the Majles did not get good marks as members of parliament and that reformists should not support them in the upcoming elections in any way. The appropriate strategy in this regard will be using prominent figures of the reform camp, those with a good background and those who would not compromise Reformists' positions."

But with the vetting controlled by hardliners there will be little chance for such individuals to get through the Guardian Council's net. Zibakalam's solution for reformists is to have fewer candidates who would not compromise the reformists' cause. He said: "An efficient qualitative list of candidates with fewer names will have better result than a list of 30 individuals for Tehran some of whom may not make even one comment during their four years at the Majles."

"In my opinion even if reformist name only three candidates for Tehran, but those three can speak at the Majles and explain reformists' views and be influential, they will get a better result than the current situation with the Hope faction at the Majles."

Meanwhile, reformist political activist Dariush Qanbari in his interview with Fararu stressed that "At the time being, reformists cannot talk about how the lists of candidate will be composed. First, we need to see who will get through the net of the Guardian Council."

Besides the reformists, factions other than hardliner conservatives close to the Guardian Council are also undecided about the way they are going to take part in the elections. At least in the far-right sector of the Iranian political spectrum, the view about vetting is the same as in the reform camp.

Abdolreza Davari, a figure close to ultraconservative former president Mahmoud Ahmadinjad told Salam-e No website on Thursday: "There is no free election. If there is an election today, the turnout will not reach even 30 percent. In this case principlists [hardline conservatives] will win the Majles. None of the elected institutions in Iran are really elected. Guardian Council Chief Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati and five others elect a number of individuals beforehand and tell the nation to vote for them."