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Iran’s Upcoming Elections Turn Into Farce In Some Districts

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Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi faces an unusual challenge as he needs just one vote to secure reelection on March 1 to the Assembly of Experts in a small district.

When selecting his constituency last year, he could have announced his candidacy from Tehran, where he works and resides, or from Qom, the home of the Shiite seminary where he claims to be a ‘ostad,’ loosely translated as a professor. However, he was aware that candidates from Tehran require between 200,000 to half a million votes to secure a seat in the Assembly of Experts, while in small rural district, a mere 200 votes would suffice.

With the Guardian Council disqualifying all four clerics who competed against Raisi, it has essentially become a one-man show, and according to Iranian election laws, he could even cast that one ballot himself.

An aide of former President Hassan Rouhani, who was also running for reelection but was disqualified, playfully teased Raisi by suggesting he bring his wife, an Iranian university professor with fake credentials, for the vote. After all, two votes are better than one.

President Ebrahim Raisi (left) and former president Hassan Rouhani

Compared to the parliamentary elections which is to be held on the same date, and is a bad blend of election rigging, biased vetting and shambolic campaigning, the Assembly of Experts election is practically a farce. In some places, like in the case of Raisi, there is just one candidate for a seat.

In Iran’s odd electoral system, the interior ministry and the Guardian Council have the power to bar any candidate from running in elections, without recourse to courts or any other type of accountability. Many long-time regime insiders and even former top officials have been barred from the March 1 contest, to allow hardliners to gain most of the seats in the parliament and the Assembly of Experts. The latter is the body that will select Iran’s next Supreme leader in the event of Ali Khamenei’s passing.

The situation is so embarrassing that 12 grand ayatollah, clerics of the highest ranks, decided not to run at all and leave the competition to “young” clerics, who typically over 60 years of age and very little academic or seminary credential, much like Raisi.

Akbar Montajabi, the editor of Sazandegi daily, argued that Raisi should have announced his candidacy from Tehran to gauge how the capital’s residents feel about his performance in this limited election. He added that it is beneath the rank and prestige of Iran’s president to nominate himself from a small town where he faced minimal competition.

Rouhani registered his doomed candidacy from Tehran as he was sure based on the 24 million votes he won in the 2017 presidential election that he was going to win one of the seats for Tehran. Despite the 24 million votes, Kayhan newspaper’s ultraconservative editor, Hossein Shariatmadari, even complained that Rouhani had won too many votes.

Reformist analyst Ahmad Zeidabadi wrote that it seems the ultraconservative Paydari Party is determined to control all of the government institutions after the March 1 election.

Mostafa Faghihi, the editor of Entekhab news website, humorously observed that the situation is so comical that even if everyone in South Khorasan decides not to vote, Raisi will still win the election with his single vote for himself.

The situation in other Iranian cities and provinces mirrors the absurdity of the remote northeastern province. In Shiraz, where five people should be elected to the Assembly of Experts, there are only four candidates whose qualifications have been endorsed by the Guardian Council. In Gilan and Mazandaran provinces, four candidates have been qualified to run for the three available seats. In total, only 138 candidates have had their credentials endorsed for the Assembly of Experts’ 88 seats.

A cartoon on social media likened the state of competition in the Assembly of Experts election to a game played in the children’s program of the state TV in which four children turn around three seats and the teachers order, they will have to compete for the available seats.