The Coldest Parliamentary Elections in Iran

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The Coldest Parliamentary Elections in Iran

The coldest parliamentary elections in Iran

As we approach the elections for the Islamic Consultative Assembly and the Assembly of Experts on February 21st, the government’s efforts to attract participation and preparations increase. However, what is supposed to be held lacks minimal competition and resembles indirect appointments by the Supreme Leader through the Guardian Council, with the cooperation of President Ebrahim Raisi’s government.

The government’s attempts to instill false claims of conflict and refusal to vote with the electoral institution and even with Islam, as well as questioning the usefulness of not voting, are accompanied by direct and implicit threats that not voting will result in the elimination of elections and jeopardize the security and stability of the country.

However, a closer look at the positions and statements of some Friday prayer leaders, such as Youssef Tabatabai Nejad, the Friday prayer leader of Isfahan, Ahmad Khatami, the Friday prayer leader of Tehran, and Ahmad Alamolhoda, the Friday prayer leader of Mashhad, regarding the consequences of not voting and the enemies’ plan to turn the elections into a referendum to reject the system, indicates that their main audience is not the entire dissatisfied society and the gray spectrum, but rather the concerned supporters of the government’s social base.

In the same context, the points that Ali Khamenei recently mentioned about the importance of elections in the Islamic Republic are addressed to this section of society, which seems to lack the necessary motivation to vote.

Now, the challenge for the government to participate in elections is not limited to the opposition or reformists, but also includes a spectrum of government supporters who are commonly referred to as ‘khodiyeha’ (meaning insiders). In this note, we will delve into the background and reasons for this intra-governmental challenge.

After assuming the position of Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei sought to institutionalize the social base of the Guardianship of the Jurist and direct their positions and opinions. In the early years of his leadership, he attempted to accuse and marginalize the Imam’s Line faction, which was more prominent among the insiders of the government in the 1990s, of deviation and degeneration.

In this framework, he tactically formed an alliance with Hashemi Rafsanjani. However, after the second round of presidential elections during Rafsanjani’s term, factors such as political monopolies, reluctance to distribute power, and disagreements over the mode of governance, especially in the economic and cultural domains, led to their separation.

This difference, alongside the events happening in society and the left-wing’s efforts to reform itself in the political arena, led to the formation of a dual governance system. The advertising apparatus of the Leader’s Office portrayed the social base of the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist against the selected institutions of the Basij, claiming that they were infiltrated by power-seekers and Western-influenced revisionists.

With the end of the reformist government of Mohammad Khatami and the beginning of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency, the hope arose within the institution of the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist that sole governance would be in the hands of managerial, revolutionary, and value-oriented jihadis. However, with Ahmadinejad’s disobedience and the bloody suppression of the Green Movement, it was claimed that the deviation of the selected institutions had caused trouble.

Continuing with the interests of the government and the necessity of changing the scene to temporarily and limitedly ease tensions with America, an unacceptable moderate government, from the perspective of the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist, once again took control of the executive branch, and the parliament was not completely aligned with it in its continuation.

In the past 30 years, Hezbollah, Basijis, and believers in the theory of absolute guardianship of the jurist, along with the majority of supporters of the classic image of government, were convinced through propaganda campaigns that if like-minded forces aligned with the Supreme Leader and believers in guardianship came to power, the government would improve and social demands would be met.

Furthermore, political conflicts would subside and all the capacities of government institutions would be utilized to solve economic problems. However, the unified rule of the fundamentalists not only failed to fulfill this claim but also worsened the situation.

Now, the challenge for the government to participate in elections is not limited to the opponents, the undecided voters, and the reformists. It even includes factions within themselves. The reasons for this internal governance problem will be mentioned further.

1. Lack of competition

In all previous elections, a bipolar choice was formed between preserving and changing the existing situation, with the main driving force being the supporters of the institution of the Guardianship of the Jurist. They confronted those who were labeled as instigators, enemies, liberals, capitalist elements, corrupt officials, and unworthy individuals. This gave them motivation to participate in the elections. However, in the upcoming elections, there is no such bipolarity, and everyone is described as being part of the revolutionary front. The competition between the stability front and the circle close to Qalibaf does not have enough significance to create enthusiasm for voting.

2. Intensification of the economic downturn

Before the start of the Ibrahim Raisi government, tribunes affiliated with the dominant power sector promoted the idea that the presence of non-revolutionary and non-loyal forces, as well as the preference for political issues and partisan and factional disputes, had led to an economic downturn in the country. However, the start of the loyal and jihadi managers, as described in the literature of the Islamic Republic, worsened the situation even more. Political group and individual conflicts did not leave the governing institutions, and even reached a deplorable state.

These forces, most of whom do not have access to bribes and special privileges, are on one hand struggling with livelihood issues and on the other hand facing criticism and protests from the people, including neighbors, relatives, colleagues, and others. They do not have the power to defend themselves. Therefore, they have realized in their own assessment that elections do not have much impact on their quality of life. Instead, external factors relatively manage the economy with fewer problems in the areas of inflation and employment.

3. Escalation of entrenched corruption

Supporters of the government expected that the unified rule of conservatives would reduce corruption and that government officials would only work for the satisfaction of God and the creation of God and the standards of government values. However, contrary to their expectations, the result of their work indicates the growth and deepening of corruption, which is not only related to the elected institutions and their agents, but the main problem lies elsewhere. This situation has led them to at least be exposed to the belief that corruption is systematic and that voting without structural changes does not have a significant impact on stopping widespread corruption.

The four ethical and cultural principles of institutionalization and the principles of this ideology have created the perception that the widespread cultural and ethical gap in society is the result of the presence of managers who do not believe in the official values ​​of the government. However, the social base of the Guardianship of the Jurist has now tangibly seen the seizure of all governing institutions by the guardians and Hezbollah members, which has not only led to a decrease or control of unveiledness and the spread of joyful styles and conflicting lifestyles with their value system.

But even cultural contradictions have turned into supports for expressing political opposition and strengthening protest movements. From this perspective, they do not have much motivation to participate in elections and continue the activities of the Revolutionary Parliament. Even some reactions, to the point of martyrdom, have not met their expectations, including the new chastity and veil law of the 11th Parliament.

5. Continuation of opportunism in foreign policy hostility.

One of the goals that the Principlists had in mind for managing the executive branch was to eliminate the compromising forces in the field of foreign policy, which according to Khamenei’s interpretation, are humiliated and self-deprecating in the face of the government’s enemies. The presence of revolutionary Principlists expands the revolutionary discourse in foreign policy and strengthens what they call the resistance front, resulting in a comprehensive confrontation with Israel and the United States in the Middle East.

However, the start of the Rouhani government’s work has not led to a significant change in the government’s final performance in the field of diplomacy. The claimed authority has not been achieved and is repeatedly postponed to the future. The JCPOA, which was considered a document of betrayal, is now being sought to be revived. Saudi Arabia, which was once considered a milking cow and the fifth column of the great Satan, is now seen as a friendly and brotherly government, and its proximity is described as a great success of the government.

Tactical considerations in the confrontation between the Iranian government and the West have limited the effectiveness of the claims made by the commanders of the Revolutionary Guards regarding retaliatory actions. The government continues to maintain a stance of direct confrontation against Israel, but its response has been limited to ambiguous operations with uncertain outcomes. In the face of protests, the government is accused of passivity and weakness, as it is believed to be falling into Israel’s intended trap.

This situation within the ranks of the Basij forces and conservatives could lead to dissatisfaction, to the extent that media outlets close to the Supreme Leader’s institution, such as the Javan newspaper and the Fars and Tasnim news agencies, respond to the protests by accusing the government of inaction and weakness in seeking revenge.

These factors have collectively resulted in a significant portion of the social base that supports the Supreme Leader’s institution being dissatisfied with the performance of the eleventh parliament and the thirteenth government. This dissatisfaction may serve as a motivation for their participation in the February elections.

The statements of government supporters during a meeting with Khamenei in 1401 (2022) shed light on the fact that the government and parliament are clearly considered unfit to be labeled revolutionary. The unrealistic and unattainable claim of turning Iran into an inspiring and exemplary country is perceived as imaginary and out of reach by these forces. Therefore, the February elections can be considered as windows to understand the decline of supporters or the challenges facing the government in its social base mobilization.


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