You are currently viewing 3 keys to understanding why many Iranians plan not to vote in presidential elections

The Iranians vote this Friday to choose the successor of Hassan Rouhani, who has been its president since 2013.

Elections in the Islamic Republic of Iran are not considered by much of the international community as a “free and democratic” event.

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This is mainly because candidates must be vetoed and approved by the 12 theologians and jurists who make up the Council of Guardians, an unelected body that has the final decision on who can stand in an election.

Even so, in the past elections had a high turnout because for many they served to make their voice heard.

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This year, however, everything seems to indicate that the mood has changed and many, mainly the younger ones, have decided not to participate in the elections, also to express their frustrations.

For Iranian leaders, electoral participation is a way of testing the legitimacy of their political system.

But several polls, such as the one conducted by the government-aligned Iranian Student Survey Agency, show that turnout forecasts are only 36% or less.

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And while, the hashtag “By no means do I vote” is a trend on Persian social media.

There are many factors that explain discontent and frustration that many Iranians seem to feel today.

1. Four of the five candidates are hardliners

In Iran, the political spectrum can be broadly divided between the candidates who are hard-liners: the ultra-conservative and religious who are allied to the ruling class; the moderates: who support the the state; and the reformers who wish to change the Islamic theocracy system from within.

Ebrahim Raisi is a hard-line cleric with close ties to Ayatollah Khomeini. (EPA).

Since 1997, the Iranian presidential elections have been polarized, with contenders belonging to each of the three factions.

But a recent directive from the Guardian Council practically barred most reformist or moderate candidates from running this year.

Out of dozens of prominent political figures who signed up to run, only seven were approved by the council.

Y five of these candidates are hardliners.

Furthermore, it was announced on Wednesday that the only reformist candidate who had been approved, Mohsen Mehralizadeh, was withdrawing from the electoral race. And one of the hardline candidates, Alireza Zakani, also withdrew.

Thus, there are five candidates vying for the presidency and, of these, four are hardliners. The main contender, according to the polls, is Ebrahim Raisi, currently the head of the judiciary.

“Hardline candidates have been involved in the repression of any kind of citizen discontent. And the main contender, Ebrahim Raisi, has a long history of human rights violations, ”says Rana Rahimpur, a journalist for the BBC’s Persian service.

“The other candidates are there to show that it really is an election but most people say this is not a choiceIt is more of a selection, ”says the journalist.

Around 59 million people have the right to vote.  (EPA).

Around 59 million people have the right to vote. (EPA).

This “lack of alternatives” is perceived as one of the main reasons why many Iranian voters have decided to stay away from the polls, as Pooyan Tamimi Arab, professor of philosophy and religious studies at Utrecht University, explained to BBC Mundo. in the Netherlands.

“Neither voting nor not voting will lead to a transformation or miraculous solution to specific problems since the Islamic Republic is by definition undemocratic,” says the expert.

“All important decisions are made by the supreme leader. But a large boycott is an important collective act because that way a majority can express the opinion that the regime is illegitimate, ”Tamimi tells BBC Mundo.

“The slogan that people are using now is ‘No to the Islamic Republic.’ And this is not just a ‘no’ to the elections but to the regime itself ”.

2. “A single horse race”

Many believe that Ebrahim Raisi’s victory is assured. He is the hard-line candidate and maintains close ties with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, head of the ruling class.

It has even been said that Raisi will not only ascend to the presidency but he could also be the next supreme leader, replacing Khamenei.

“The disqualification of less hard-line candidates has in effect turned Iran’s presidential election into a one-horse race,” says Kasra Naji, a journalist for the BBC’s Persian service.

The cost of living in Iran has increased dramatically in recent years.  (Reuters).

The cost of living in Iran has increased dramatically in recent years. (Reuters).

“Hard-line politicians have known for a long time that they will not be able to win power through the ballot box and that is why they have chosen to manipulate a victory,” Naji tells BBC Mundo.

And Raisi, the hardest-line candidate who was approved, is almost certain to win. The Fars news agency, supported by the Revolutionary Guard, published the results of what it described as a ‘reliable’ poll that predicts a turnout of almost 53% and a victory for Raisi with 72% of the vote, ”the journalist said.

Raisi was Rouhani’s main rival in the last election four years ago.

And he was part of a group of clerics who in 1988 approved the executions of thousands of political prisoners ordered by the then supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei.

For his role in the executions, Raisi is under sanctions from the United States government and many, both inside and outside of Iran, would view his election as president with concern.

3. The growing discontent over the state of the economy

Since the last presidential election in 2017, a series of events has dramatically changed the Iranian political landscape.

These are the first elections since the wave of protests that hit the country in November 2019, which was followed by strong repression by the security services.

There have also been arrests of political and social activists, executions of political prisoners, outrage over the “by mistake” shooting down of a Ukrainian plane and a severe economic crisis as a result of the sanctions imposed by the United States.

In November 2019, thousands of people took to the streets to protest in more than 100 cities and hundreds died.  (Getty Images).

In November 2019, thousands of people took to the streets to protest in more than 100 cities and hundreds died. (Getty Images).

As the journalist Kasra Naji explains, a low turnout in elections, as a result of voter dissatisfaction, would be a severe blow to rulers who need to prove with votes the legitimacy of their system.

“A low turnout is normally a sign of apathy in elections,” Naji tells BBC Mundo.

But in Iran this time It’s a sign of a silent protest, an act of defiance by millions of people, they protest against what they see as an attempt by hard-line politicians, who control key centers of power, to take away their right to choose ”, adds the journalist.

“This challenge will undoubtedly undermine the legitimacy of the next government.”

The economy has always played a key role in the Iranian elections and is now high on the agenda of all candidates.

Due to the precarious economic situation, Iran is currently in one of its most critical phases since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

The impact of the sanctions, aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic, has caused one of the worst economic crises in the history of the country, with an inflation rate that reaches 50%.

When the government raised the price of gasoline in November 2019, thousands of people took to the streets in more than 100 cities.

According to Amnesty International, in a few days the security forces killed more than 300 unarmed protesters.

Although there are those who believe that in Iran gradual change is more feasible through the ballot box, others say that the only way to achieve change in the country is through protests and strikes.

Everything seems to indicate that these elections are unlikely to end the volatile political and economic climate in Iran.

“It is important to underline that all crucial policies are determined by the Supreme Leader and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard ”, tells BBC Mundo Pooyan Tamimi. “Do not fall into the trap of the idea that these policies are determined by the ballot box.”

“When (hard-line politicians) occupy all branches of power, they will have to decide whether they are going to transform the Islamic Republic into a ‘normal’ dictatorship or whether they will continue to face the international community,” adds the expert.

How the outcome may affect the nuclear deal

The country’s main foreign affairs policy is the nuclear deal with the Western powers.

The former president of the United States, Donald Trump, withdrew his country from that agreement, considering that it was an unequal pact that “should never have been made.”

“The agreement was so badly negotiated that even if Iran complies with everything, the regime would be on the verge of obtaining nuclear weapons in a short period of time,” he said then.

Trump pulled the United States out of that pact in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran, which, along with corruption, led to great economic instability.

All of this was the trigger for large protests in 2017 and 2019, in which hundreds of protesters died.

With current US President Joe Biden, talks have resumed: Biden wants to return to the nuclear deal but first demands that Iran fulfill all its obligations to the deal.

For its part, Tehran makes it a condition that the US lift sanctions in order to manage the paralyzing economic situation.



Until now, the ultra-conservative Iranian sector opposed the agreement and called it “treason”, although in the electoral race they have expressed their willingness to to revive the pact.

A hardline president is expected to be more hostile to the West, but Iran’s nuclear policy is determined by the supreme leader and not the president.

However, analysts consulted by the BBC believe that the president will dictate the tone of the negotiations; a tone that can make it more difficult to reach a vital agreement for the security and stability of the entire Middle East.




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