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Iran’s Ruler Says Elections Needed Against ‘Dictatorship’

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Insisting that there would be “dictatorship” in the absence of elections, Iran’s Supreme Leader Saturday urged Iranians to vote in the March parliamentary elections.

Khamenei who was addressing a group of visitors from Kerman and Khuzestan provinces emphasized that the solution to the problems that Iran and Iranians are facing is participation in the elections, blaming the opposition for discouraging people from voting.

“Some people constantly remind about the country’s problems to discourage people, but the solution to these problems is elections, and to solve the problems, one should participate in the elections,” he said.

In his speech however, Khamenei made no mention of the actual problems highlighted by the opposition, including a serious economic crisis, rising poverty and extensive fresh corruption cases. Most notably, the 83-year-old authoritarian ruler failed to mention the controversial candidate vetting process that has consistently narrowed the circle of regime insiders in recent years, leaving most political parties and groups with no viable candidates.

Khamenei has been Supreme Leader since 1989, increasingly building his authoritarian rule, without having to get re-elected and not subject to any supervision.

Ali Khamenei speaking on December 23, 2023, with a photo of IRGC Gen, Qasem Soleimani in the background.

“Elections are the basis of transformation. Elections prevent dictatorship, chaos, insecurity, and turbulence,” he said to persuade the largely indifferent public to go to the ballot boxes.

In the jargon of the officials, including Khamenei, the word translated as turbulence, eqteshash, is always used instead of ‘protest’ when referring to anti-government manifestations.

People not loyal to the Islamic Republic were never allowed to have any political activity and have been always persecuted, but many of those who accepted the regime and even held positions in the government have been purged in the past 15 years.

Convinced that hardliners committed to Khamenei’s policies will cruise to victory with the help of the Guardian Council, which has barred most other insiders, most Iranians are showing very little interest in the upcoming elections. In addition to electing a new parliament, the March 1 vote will also select the eighty-eight clerics of the Assembly of Experts that must choose Khamenei’s successor.

Most Reformist parties and groups, as well as many among moderate conservatives, have not shown any interest in the elections given extensive candidate disqualification in the 2020 parliamentary vote, which excluded them and resulted in domination by ultra-hardliners. Many among the opposition abroad and other inside Iran staunchly oppose participation in any of the elections that the Islamic Republic holds on the grounds that voting in these circumstances would only give the regime a semblance of legitimacy.

People threw paint on a Khamenei banner during anti-regime protests in October 2022.

Based on recent polls, pundits including former Reformist politician, commentator and sociologist Abbas Abdi say turnout may be the lowest in the four-decade history of the Islamic Republic. According to Abdi, less than 10 percent of the educated urban young people intend to vote and predicted that overall turnout in the capital Tehran may even be under 15 percent.

A poll recently conducted by the semi-official Iranian Students Polling Agency (ISPA), found 27.9 percent of those polled saying they would definitely vote against 36 percent who said they would not under any circumstances. 21.9 percent said they had made no decision yet.

“To what extent people hope to solve their problems through elections plays a major role in their participation,” Abdi wrote in November.

Former government spokesman, Reformist politician and sociologist Ali Rabiei has predicted that contrary to the previous elections, when interest in voting increased as voting day approached, there will be no increased interest this time. He has also predicted a turnout of around 32 percent in the country and less than half of that in Tehran.

In 2020, the Khamenei-appointed Guardian Council ensured that not only Reformists closer to conservatives, but also most moderate conservatives were excluded from the electoral lists. The vetting and low turnout resulted in the dominance of hardliners and ultra-hardliners in the current parliament.

Voter turnout in the 2020 parliamentary elections officially dropped to 42 percent, the lowest since the first elections held in 1979, only two months after the Islamic Revolution, in which 52 percent of those eligible to vote had taken part. Some critics say that even the official turnout numbers are exaggerated, and far fewer people cast ballots.

The highest turnout in the parliamentary elections was registered in 2001, during the presidency of Reformist Mohammad Khatami, when 67 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. This was one of the rare occasions when the Guardian Council allowed candidates from across the political spectrum loyal to the regime to run. Reformists gained an overwhelming majority in the 2001 elections.