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With Most Reformists Barred, Iran's Parliamentary Elections Offer Little Choice

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in speech pleaded with Iranians to go to the polls. February 5, 2020

Iran’s reformists will mostly stay out of the parliamentary elections on February 21, leaving little incentive for voters to go to polls, as no alternative is offered except hardliners to choose from.

Although twelve small reformist parties have decided to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections for seats in the capital, few see this as reason enough to take the elections a bit more seriously.

Prominent reformists in dozens were barred by the hardliner election watchdog controlled by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei from running in the elections.

The decision of smaller groups announced on Friday February 7 by Mohammad Reza Rahchamani, the leader of National Unity and Cooperation Party, defied a resolution by an umbrella organization that decided reformists will not field candidates in Tehran in reaction to widespread disqualification of reformists.

Several reformist figures have said during the past week that no prominent reformist candidate has been qualified by the Guardian Council to run for the parliament (Majles).

However, Rahchamani added that "around 12 reformist parties have qualified candidates and they want to take part in the elections in Tehran. They are going to form something like a coalition that would be named as 'Reformists in the Capital' after a meeting which is to be held on Saturday."

The meeting of the representatives of the 12 parties will also discuss the combination of the list. These are small low-key, low-impact parties not to be compared to major parties such as the Participation Party and National Party in the 2000s, which no longer operate as their status and structure has been badly damaged after the disputed 2009 election. Part of the government believes the former is outlawed and the latter has been weakened due to divides and separations.

Hardline newspaper Kayhan has often mockingly said about the small reformist parties that "all of their members can fit into a Volkswagen."

All this is happening while public interest in the upcoming elections has been diminishing.

A poll conducted by the state-run News Network on the Telegram app showed over 78 percent of viewers said they won't take part in the elections. The posts were deleted and the poll was repeated with similar results.

On Friday the posts were deleted again, and a News Network presenter announced that the channel was fake.

In the murky social media environment, it is difficult to ascertain who is fake and who is real, anyway.

Violent suppression of protests in November and the killing of hundreds of protesters have left many Iranians deeply disillusioned with the whole political system of the Islamic Republic. They do not see this election as an opportunity to perhaps choose politicians who can make a difference.

Many Iranians on social media and 164 foreign-based activists have called for boycotting the elections. The 164 signatories called the February 21 election a stage-managed event and called for civil disobedience asking the people to defend their citizenship rights by not taking part in the elections, in which only candidates who have been endorsed by the hardliner-dominated Guardian Council can run at the expense of thousands of others.

The hardliners led by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei know that in the absence of at least a semblance of competitive elections the turnout will be low and are trying to urge people to vote.

Khamenei himself this week addressed the people saying that even if they do not like him, they should vote if they love their country. Many mocked him for this statement on social media, after deep anger with recent events.

One his most staunch hardliner supporters, the ultraconservative cleric Ahmad Alamolhoda announced that "Those who do not take part in the elections will go to hell."