Home iran Dissenting Clerics And Politicians Question Iran’s Elections

Dissenting Clerics And Politicians Question Iran’s Elections


In a significant shift from his previously conciliatory stance, former President Mohammad Khatami has asserted that the upcoming elections are far from being free, fair, and competitive.

According to Jamaran News website, speaking to the leaders of Hambastegi [Solidarity], one of Iran’s smallest Reformist parties, Khatami highlighted widespread dissatisfaction among educated youth, elites, and over 50 percent of the population who abstained from voting in the 2020 and 2021 elections. He also noted millions who cast blank votes.

Khatami cautioned the government against assuming satisfaction among past election participants with the country’s situation. He emphasized the need for competitive, free, and fair elections, advocating for representation of reformists, conservatives, and all Iranians. He urged the government to address existing dissatisfactions seriously to ensure future elections are fair.

Khatami cautioned the government that “it should not assume that those who voted in the past two elections are necessarily happy about the country’s situation.”

Khatami further said, “A free, fair, and competitive election is an election in which not only the reformists and conservatives, but also all other Iranians can have their own candidates.” He expressed hope that “the government takes the existing dissatisfactions seriously and paves the way for free and fair elections in the future.”

Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, only individuals loyal to the clerical regime have been permitted to run in elections. Those with dissenting views not only faced bans on political activities but also risked arrest and lengthy prison terms.

Iran’s ruler Ali Khamenei (left) and former president Mohammad Khatami

In another development, Mohammad Taghi Akbarnejad, a conservative cleric at the Qom seminary was arrested on February 17 for his critical comments about the upcoming elections and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his regime’s track record during the past 45 years. Akbarnejad said in a video that went viral on social media that “both voting and not voting in the elections carry a message to the government and reflect people’s reaction to the officials’ [objectionable] performance.”

He also compared Iran’s economic situation to those of China and South Korea: “This government has had 45 years to prove itself. It has been in control of a wealthy country for 45 years. We own eight to nine percent of the wealth of the whole world. In the modern world 45 years is a lot of time. China has become [modern] China during the past 45 years. South Korea has become what it is during the same 45 years.”

Iran’s GDP is less than half of its neighbors Turkey and Saudi Arabia, while before the revolution it was the leading economic power in the Middle East.

Akbarnejad continued to make startling remarks as a conservative cleric. He directly challenged the leaders of the Islamic Republic by questioning the practical benefits of their religion for the people. “I do not believe in a religion that does not serve the nation’s interests,” he boldly declared. It’s worth noting that, as a devout Muslim, he was questioning the application of religious principles by the rulers rather than expressing disbelief in religion itself.

Following his arrest, the number of his followers on Instagram rose from around 1,000 to over 93,000.

In yet another development , following a panel discussion about the election at the University of Tehran, which turned out to be mainly about the expected low turnout, former government spokesman Ali Rabiei wrote about his take on the reasons for a likely low turnout in an article for Etemad Online website.

“When those in power are not prepared to make any compromise, the society falls out with the government and avoids any form of reconciliatory behavior,” he argued.

He censured a small yet powerful faction for engineering a political deadlock fueled by narrow factional interests, which prioritizes their own agenda over national security. Rabiei concluded by asserting that Iranians are utilizing the elections as a platform to articulate their discontent.