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Voter Indifference Is A Challenge For The Islamic Republic

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greeting voters in May 2017, as they hope he will deliver on promises of more liberalization.

Two leading conservative and reformist figures have expressed concern over the apparent indifference of the electorate in Iran as the country's parliamentary elections are fast approaching.

They list populism, the decline in the status of the Majles (Parliament), the biased vetting of the candidates by a hardliner watchdog council and the reformists' poor performance in the current Majles as some of the reasons making voters more indifferent.

The Islamic Republic has always used various tactics to encourage people to show up at the ballot box, to be able to claim that its political system works and boost its legitimacy.

Voters have usually turned up in large enough numbers lured with promises by reformists of more social and civic freedoms. But beginning with the 1997 election of Mohammad Khatami as president, the reformists have failed to deliver.

The latest disappointment has been President Hassan Rouhani who promised more liberalization, for people only to see more arrests, less freedoms nad another eight years wasted waiting for real reforms.

In the upcoming elections next February, the Islamic Republic seems to be out of its usual tactics for instilling hope in the electorate and persuading them to vote.

Conservatives are divided into at least three factions and it does not seem they’ll agree anytime soon to form a united list of candidates to present to voters.

This comes while many conservative figures who spoke to reformist daily Sharq during August and September have acknowledged that the faction's biggest problem is that it lacks a leader.

On the other hand, the reform camp also appears to be suffering from a leadership and popularity crisis as reformist theoretician Mohammad Reza Tajik observed in a 29 September interview with Tehran's best-selling newspaper Hamshahri.

Tajik called the reform camp "a skinny elephant" whose rivals have "domesticated" with relatively success, possibly alluding to reform leaders attempt to appease hardliners, particularly Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, rather than addressing the need for real reforms.

Nevertheless, reformist activist Mohsen Rohami told ISNA that Iranian reformists can unite before the February election. He also claimed that the people still trust reform figures and will listen to them at the election time.

This comes while the best-known reform figure in Iran, former President Mohammad Khatami is no longer certain that people would listen to him. He has criticized reformist lawmakers for letting down the nation and eroding public trust in reforms and reformists. Other reformists have also criticized Khatami and other reformist politicians.

Currently, Iranian reformists are divided over whether they should take part in the election. Some of them believe there is no point in introducing a list of candidates if the Guardian Council is not going to confirm their qualifications to run for the Majles.

Rohami says the divide could be part of a "sham fight" among reformists, possibly to make the Guardian Council spell out its views about reformists' participation in the February elections.

While both conservatives and reformists portray a disparaging image of the results of the upcoming parliamentary elections in Iran, some politicians have warned that lack of motivation on the part of well-known political factions, could lead to populist figures winning the election.

Conservative analyst Nasser Imani told Khabar Online website in August that in the absence of well-known conservative and reformist candidates, "a third current" may emerge particularly in small towns and candidates in this current can win most of the 290 seats at the Iranian Parliament.

Asked how likely is that a radical group would emerge in the disguise of this so-called third current, Imani said :"It is likely and this threat must be taken seriously. The people's disappointment of the two traditional factions could have adverse consequences for the country including the emergence of radicals without transparent political or national identity."

According to Imani, "Radical individuals will grow from within such a third current. So both of the current political factions should take this threat seriously. This current may even want to test itself in the Presidential elections in order to ride the waves of public dissent and pour votes into its basket."