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Iran’s March Elections Face Widespread Apathy Amid Discontent

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Low social media interest in the March 1 Iranian elections, along with recent polling data, confirm the prevailing sentiment of significant voter apathy among a disillusioned electorate.

A recent poll conducted by an unnamed government agency, presumably the intelligence or interior ministry, which was briefly mentioned by the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) found that turnout would be around 30 percent at the national level and less than 15 percent in the capital Tehran, the lowest-ever in the history of the Islamic Republic.

Information from the poll has been disseminated across various news outlets, but due to concerns about the potential for an extremely low voter turnout, authorities have resorted to censorship to prevent the exacerbation of an already critical situation.

On Tuesday, Khabar Online, a news website associated with former moderate conservative parliament speaker Ali Larijani, disclosed that they had received phone calls from unidentified individuals instructing them to remove the article covering the poll results from their website. They were informed that publishing any polls related to elections was deemed illegal.

Iranian hardliners in an election gathering in Tehran in January 2024

The government’s ineffectiveness, rampant corruption within state entities, and the dire economic conditions that have resulted in a significant decline in the living standards of working- and middle-class Iranians are some of the factors contributing to the electorate’s decision to abstain from voting in both parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections. Additionally, the harsh suppression of protests, such as the Woman, Life, Freedom protests in 2022-23, as well as earlier demonstrations in 2019 and 2017, along with the continuous erosion of social and political freedoms, have fueled a lack of trust in the system.

“I won’t vote. Anyone who votes will be a partner in the killing of the youth of the country”, “I will not vote for the sake of the Iranian girls who were blinded by the child-killing dictator”, “I will not vote, for the sake of my country and for people who want happiness,” people say in their tweets.

Many, including former regime insiders from various factions, such as reformists, supporters of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and moderate conservatives, argue that the extensive vetting of candidates by the Guardian Council in favor of hardliners has left them with no viable options to vote for.

“I have participated in all the elections so far. I really want to vote, but no candidate whose ideas are close to mine has been approved. How can I really vote? I can’t participate in the elections in these circumstances,” another tweet said.

Hardliners who dominate the current parliament had promised to fight poverty, corruption, discrimination, and inefficiency in government bodies but after four years the situation has only worsened.

“What you call ‘elections’ and consider participating in it a religious obligation is closer to ‘pledging allegiance’ to those in power both in form and meaning,” Farhad Badragheh, a member of Iran’s Bar Association tweeted.

Regime supporters almost invariably say they will vote because Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei says they must. In June 2009, just days before the controversial presidential elections, Khamenei emphasized that people would not vote if they lacked hope in the country’s future, did not trust the system, or did not feel free. He remarked, “When there is no trust, participation will be low. When participation is low, the legitimacy of the system will be affected.”

“[I vote] because the future of my country is important to me, because my leader emphasizes on participating in the elections, and because anyone with common sense agrees with participating in the elections,” a regime loyalist said in his tweet with the hashtag #Iwillvote.

Following Khamenei’s lead, other state officials also insist that voting is a religious duty and claim that it is the enemies of the Islamic Republic who are trying to disillusion people.

The Friday Imam of Esfahan, Yousef Tabatabaei Nejad, said last week that those who do not vote are not Muslims and by not voting in these elections they are casting their ballots for the enemies of the regime.