More Details Emerge About Iran’s Manipulation of its Elections

About half of the prospective candidates for the parliament, or “Islamic Consultative Assembly,” were cleared by the Guardian Council to stand in the forthcoming elections. The race for the Assembly of Experts, which is tasked with overseeing and potentially selecting a new supreme leader, is even more restrictive. About one-fifth of the candidates who originally registered will actually appear on the ballot, meaning that about 165 candidates will be vying for 88 seats, some of them running uncontested in their districts.

On Thursday, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran indicated that even these figures do not convey the full extent to which the regime has been manipulating the electoral process. The report indicates that the existing Assembly of Experts has been violating Iran’s own election laws by refusing to expand the number of seats in accordance with the growth of the population.

The NCRI’s election document also points out that the disqualifications for the Assembly of Experts included every woman who attempted to register as a candidate, since the regime formally considers women to lack the competence to make decisions related to the authority of the supreme leader.

It is currently unknown how many female candidates for the parliament have been cleared to appear on the ballot. But currently, one nine of the 260 members of that parliament are women, and all of them are known conservatives who have spoken out against reforms that would limit restrictions on women’s freedom of dress and assembly.

Furthermore, Eurasia Review pointed out on Thursday that female candidates who were rejected by the Guardian Council faced the possibility of severe backlash, especially in conservative small towns. The vast majority of disqualifications are attributed to “lack of practical commitment to Islam,” so the rejection of a female candidate can lead to the perception that she is out of compliance with the expected social behaviors of a woman living under the fundamentalist regime. This is especially dangerous in light of developments in recent years, whereby the parliament has enhanced the authority of civilian militias to accost other citizens and particularly women for such perceived violations as improper veiling.

Eurasia Review went on to say that the potential for backlash could discourage would-be Iranian female politicians from actually seeking public office, especially if they maintain progressive views on women’s rights and other issues. The recent rejection of as much as 99 percent of prospective reformist candidates illustrates that a progressive female candidate would have next to no chance of being qualified by the Guardian Council.

Observations like this demonstrate that any factional feuding ahead of elections is unlikely to relate to serious issues at the heart of the regime’s ideology. This is not to say that there is no factional feuding ahead of the current elections. Many Western media outlets and even Iranian opposition groups like the NCRI have acknowledged that there is, but most have tended to emphasize that the feud relates to difference in tactics aimed at the same goal of preserving the status quo.

For instance, Reuters reported on Thursday that the recent cancellation of an Iranian oil industry conference in London appears to relate to factional feuding over the extent to which the regime should open up its markets to Western entities. Traditional hardliners have taken issue with proposed contracts that they see as giving “ownership” of Iranian resources to foreign entities. Meanwhile, the pragmatist faction associated with President Hassan Rouhani has tended to push for a more liberal approach to economic relations in order to secure financial capital for the clerical regime.

So while Iran’s financial interactions with the West may be influenced by the outcome of this month’s elections, most analysts have rejected the notion that a victory for one faction could bring about a sea-change in Iran’s foreign and domestic policies.