Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Monday called a meeting with some 50 politicians loyal to the regime, amid sharp controversy over upcoming parliamentary elections.
The meeting, which was the first of its kind since Raisi took office as Iran’s President in 2021, was shunned by some Reformists who saw his maneuver as a move to distract the nation from the realities on the ground. However, some of them appreciated the opportunity to meet face to face with Raisi and convey their concerns ahead of the March 1 parliamentary elections.
Hardliners using the regime’s undemocratic candidate vetting scheme has already disqualified most Reformists and moderates from running in the election. This has diminished the already slim chance of having a large turnout by voters, who are uncertain that elections could lead to meaningful policy changes under Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Iranian social media users and journalists also reacted negatively to Raisi’s apparent willingness to engage with insider political groups. Mostafa Faghihi, the editor of Entekhab News wrote in a tweeted that Raisi has clearly aligned himself with the hardliner Paydari group. “In your opinion, why should Raisi sit between the chairman of the central council of Paydari Party and the Interior Minister [who is also close to Paydari]? Interestingly, Raisi has said recently that his government has no candidate in the parliamentary elections. But it seems that he has done away with all reservations, and we should clearly see the indications of Paydari’s influence in the government.”
Another user who posted several photos of the meeting, wrote: “Did you ever see such a scene in the Rouhani administration?” And Iranian journalist Ehsan Bodaghi wrote: “This is not even a show of a political agreement. The minimum requirement for an agreement is holding free and fair elections. In that case, you do not need these pictures to prove that all political groups will take part in the elections.”
The 150-minute-long meeting was attended by politicians from the left and right wings, but most of the 25 political figures who spoke or asked questions were from the reform camp. Mohammad Ali Abtahi, the former chief of staff of former President Mohammad Khatami wrote on Instagram: “I told Raisi he should acknowledge that the people are sulking with the government. I also told him that even all of us try to encourage the people to vote, our advice is not going to be effective and will not change social realities.”
Abtahi quoted Raisi as having said at the meeting that in his opinion all candidates who have registered should be allowed to run.
Opponents of the regime and true dissidents are already barred from political participation. Their place is usually in the courts, prisons or exile.
Meanwhile, Abtahi wrote that during the meeting Sadeq Mahsouli the leader of the Paydari Party said that 2009 Presidential election was the best election that was ever held in Iran. That was the disputed election that brought populist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power for a second term and led to months of protests all over Iran. Abtahi added that former government spokesman, reformist Ali Rabiei harshly responded to Mahsouli who had called the protests “sedition.”
Abtahi said that during his speech, he suggested to Raisi to change his restrictive policy about social media and allow the parliament to have a say about key matters, such as foreign policy.
Meanwhile, according to Etemad online, reformist activist Javad Emam said in the meeting that organizing the meeting was meant to distract attention from the political realities in the Iranian society. “Without free, fair and competitive elections, such meetings are nothing more than shows, ” Emam said. He added that the meeting will not have any impact on the elections. It was only meant to justify the government’s policy of barring candidates. Such a meeting should have taken place before changing the provisions of the election law and barring many candidates, he said.
Emam further accused Raisi and his government of disappointing the people and causing young Iranians to lose faith in the electoral process. In conclusion, Emam called on the government to abolish the vetting process and respect the people’s right to choose their representatives.