“Iran belongs to hardliners,” a recent remark on state TV, further fueled anger and frustration over the monopoly of power established by the regime loyalists.
An aspiring female hardliner politician, Mansooreh Masoumi-Asl, speaking in a television program, questioned the presence of non-hardliners on state TV, emphasizing, “This country belongs to Hezbollahis.”
In the past 20 years, Iran’s so-called ultraconservatives and hardliners supported by the Revolutionary Guard and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei have steadily increased their power in all state institutions.
Khamenei controlling all intelligence services and the courts first began closing a nascent bunch of relatively independent newspapers in early 2000s. Then he empowered the Revolutionary Guard to build an economic empire and a powerful intelligence organization. Hundreds of journalists were jailed in the past 20 years and an emerging civil society was eradicated by more arrests and court cases.
Finally, in the February 2020 parliamentary elections, most non-hardliner candidates were disqualified by the Guardian Council, a strange constitutional body tasked with vetting candidates. These individuals were already politicians loyal to the Islamic Republic, as those critical or opposed to the regime never had the chance to even express an opinion while in Iran.
The result in 2020 was that voter turnout declined, as there was no choice of so-called reformist candidates on the slates. In some districts, hardliners cruised to victory by just a few thousand votes. The same scenario happened in the 2021 presidential elections, when prominent candidates, including the former speaker of parliament, conservative Ali Larijani were disqualified and victory was handed to Khamenei’s hand-picked man, Ebrahim Raisi.
The blocking of all alternatives was part of the reason why nationwide anti-regime protests broke out in September 2022, which scared the core of the regime for a few weeks until mass killings and arrests re-assured them of their control over the angry populace. Immediately after control was restored the hardliners began a political “purification” purge by expelling scores of university professors, banning artists and writers and even replacing 20,000 school directors.
Regime insiders who are considered ‘reformists’ began sounding the alarm that most voters will not go to the ballot boxes in March, when a new parliament is scheduled to be elected. Many demanded assurances that the Guardian Council will not again block non-hardliners and allow some measure of competitive elections. But so far, the regime has offered no assurances.
The latest plea was heard from Mohammad Sadr, a long-time regime insider, who told Aftab News on Sunday that hardliners are harming the Islamic regime by their tribal behavior. “It is a fact that a high level of voter participation will boost the regime’s legitimacy,” ha argued and added, “and any group, organization or individual who prevents higher voter turnout, in reality is inflicting blows against the regime.”
Many commentators and reformists have argued that hardliners actually prefer to see voter apathy, because low turnout will ensure their victory in the elections.
However, even reformists are no longer seen as a viable alternative because it has been demonstrated in the past two decades that it is the radical core of the regime which makes all key decisions. Even a reformist parliamentary majority will be condemned to inaction by various pressures orchestrated by Khamenei’s office and the IRGC, pundits have said.
Mostafa Rostami, Khamenei representative in universities recently said that an opinion survey showed 83 percent of the population strongly object to the existing conditions in the country, although they did not participate in recent protests. Others have warned that in the next round of unrest there is no guarantee that the silent majority would remain silent.