In less than three weeks, Iran will hold its 13th Presidential election after the 1979 anti-monarchy revolution. Given the Islamic Republic’s horrible economic, social, and political record, observers and even many officials forecast an unprecedented apathy.
In the last Parliamentary elections in February 2020, the government-backed institutions declared only 41 percent of voters had participated in the polls. Aside from the outcome, Iranian leaders see elections as a measure for weighing their acceptance and social base. Therefore, the people’s refusal to vote signals the erosion of their sovereignty.
“The message of the elections for the 11th Parliament was a great warning. A warning to officials that says they should think about the people rather than the power struggle. And a warning to factions that says they should not sacrifice the interests of citizens, the country, and the state for their own privileges,” said Masih Mohajeri, the editorial chief of Jomhouri Eslami [Islamic Republic] daily on February 23, 2020.
State-backed media like Keyhan daily attempted to downplay public apathy. “The people are still loyal to Islam, the revolution, and the state. Therefore, the attribution of a few-percent decrease to the people’s disappointment toward Islam and the revolution is an insult to millions of voters, in addition to it being a flagrant lie,” wrote Hossein Shariatmadari, the daily’s editorial chief and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s mouthpiece, on February 23, 2020.
During this election, however, the Islamic Republic faces a far more complicated situation. Khamenei has been placed in an awkward position; he pursues a dramatic victory for his favorite candidate Ebrahim Raisi, the current Judiciary Chief. On the one hand, his Guardian Council has already removed all of Raisi’s potential rivals, which has even frustrated Khamenei’s loyalists about the election. And the Supreme Leader insists on maximum participation on the other hand.
In such circumstances, the power struggle has unprecedentedly intensified within the ruling system. Furthermore, while the Guardian Council has effectively specified the election’s winner, almost all authorities invite the people to participate. On the other hand, they are severely concerned about the competition’s consequences.
In this context, the Spokesperson of Armed Forces Abolfazl Shekarchi warned the candidates over speaking about various topics like cyberspace and foreign policies. “The candidates for the Presidential election are not allowed to discuss conscript for gaining votes,” said Shekarchi in an interview with Defapress on May 29.
Later, Tehran Prosecutor Ali al-Qassi Mehr emphasized that the candidates should not cross the state’s red lines in their campaigns and remarks. “They should not prioritize their personal, factional, and group interests over national interests… In the case of crossing the state’s red lines, according to legal measures, we definitely deal with them without considering their position and reputation,” Tasnim news agency quoted Al-Qassi Mehr as saying on May 31.
Notably, Ebrahim Raisi appointed Al-Qassi Mehr as Tehran Prosecutor on April 29, 2019. He was formerly the Judiciary Chief in Fars province. In other words, Al-Qassi Mehr is one of Raisi’s appointees who tries to eliminate his boss’s rivals.
Also, in an interview with Radio Javan, affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Raisi spoke about freedom. “Regarding freedom, if someone tries to harm freedom because of security issues, neither the constitution nor relevant laws allow this issue. It is not the people’s will,” said Raisi. “I profoundly believe in freedom of thought, media, and expression.”
This is while that he had previously issued repressive orders to prosecutors. “The authorities have a mission to prevent any misdemeanors from occurring by law,” said Raisi in the November 2, 2020 meeting of the Supreme Council of the Judiciary.
He considered the protests of the people as tantamount to promoting ‘evil’ and disrupting the country’s security. “They must take preventive measures to prevent those who openly want to harm the security of society in some way and prevent them from taking any action,” he stressed.
Why Authorities Encourage People to Participate in Election?
Indeed, the people’s apathy toward the Presidential election is the flipside of ongoing protests and an irreparable backlash to the government’s blind crackdown on defenseless protesters in various cities, particularly those who took to the streets in November 2019.
The government pretends the election would save the country against foreign threats. However, the people have realized that the authorities’ real concerns are not about abroad; rather, they intensely panic about domestic protests and uprisings.
“Participation in the election does not only mean electing a president, but each vote that is cast at the polls is like a missile at the heart of the arrogance’s forces,” said the IRGC commander-in-chief Hossein Salami. “Participation in the election is likely saying Labbaik to the Supreme Leader.” Labbaik means that “I will stick to obeying you again and again.”
“Today, some policy is leading the people to non-participating in the election. The disappointment among craftsmen, farmers, livestock farmers, and physicians will frustrate people from participating in the election,” said Javad Nikbin, a lawmaker from Razavi Khorasan province, during the Parliament public session on May 30.
“Norm-breakers in the election and those who encourage the people not to participate in the election will face severe approach by the Police and the Judiciary,” said Hossein Ashtari, the State Security Forces (SSF) Chief, in a meeting with panegyrists on May 28.
Furthermore, the IRGC Spokesperson Ramazan Sharif threatened journalists, warning, “Do not harm the state’s roots with reporting problems.” “The journalists’ main task in the election is materializing the Supreme Leader’s desire for maximum participation. Because the enemy tries to decrease public participation in the election,” he said on May 26.
In reality, Iranian authorities frankly admit to public distrust and indifference toward the upcoming election, which renders a silent protest against the entire Islamic Republic regime. Security officials try to downplay society’s volatile condition. However, their frequent remarks, warnings, and invitations are a reverse confession to the people’s readiness and desire for fundamental changes and replacing the autocrat and dogmatic system with a democratic and plural government.