Iran: A sham Election Rejected by the Iranian People
Genuine elections in democratic countries are periodic, inclusive, free, and competitive between different parties based on international standards such as transparent monitoring and independent election commission. This is how lawmakers and executives are elected by citizens in a democracy, providing people the opportunity to hold their representatives accountable. This process also obliges the losing side to accept its fair defeat and recognize the mandate of the winning side until the next elections.
In total contrast, the structure of elections in Iran resembles elections in an one-party state. All candidates believe and must adhere to principles representing an ideological political system, which include the guardianship of the Islamic jurist based on the absolute power of a supreme leader (Vilayat-e Faqih).
Understanding the role of the supreme leader in Iran's political system, it is necessary to remember that all candidates must be approved by the Guardian Council in order to stand in any elections. Members of the Guardian Council are selected both directly and indirectly by the supreme leader. This powerful body makes all election rules and is also responsible for supervising the election and approving its outcome. It has even the power to nullify votes and disqualify candidates. For instance, an elected female M.P. was barred from entering the parliament following the council's decision to nullified her votes because a picture of her had emerged online where she did not adhere to the compulsory Islamic dress code. It did not help that the picture were taken during a trip abroad and not in Iran.
Since there is no independent election commission in Iran, it is impossible to have a transparent election. Although there has not been real, serious opposition in previous Iranian elections, there was a massive vote-rigging in 2009, which altered the result in favor of then-sitting president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Providing fake statistics of votes and manipulating the number of participants are also ways the regime fabricates public support for the system or a particular candidate. In my personal experience, as I was an election monitor for one of the candidates during the 2009 elections, I witnessed firsthand massive rigging of votes at my polling station. When the polling station closed, I verified that the counted number of cast ballots at my polling station was 1,500. But the number announced the next day for that polling station was 2,200, which is an "increase" of almost 50%. It is the supreme leader, and by extension the Guardian Council, who decides which candidate will get the fake votes.
Another piece of evidence for the theatrical nature of Iran's elections is campaign advertising. There is an official state television network in Iran, and the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, directly appoints its head. The state television network cannot be independent because the supreme leader always prefers and supports a specific candidate, such as in 2009, when Khamenei backed Ahmadinejad.
Overall, according to Freedom House, more journalists have been repressed and jailed since the 2013 election of Hassan Rouhani, who presented himself as a "moderate." Without free media, there will not be real free and fair elections.
The Iranian women usually boycott elections in Iran. Women who register as a candidate have systematically been excluded from standing for election during the last 37 years, since the Guardian Council has decided that one of the necessary qualifying conditions is being male. This decision sidelines nearly half of Iran's population. The clerical regime sees them as a second-class citizens.
Despite receiving billions of dollars after the nuclear agreement last year, Tehran has failed to resolve social and economic problems. This is because a majority of this money is being spent on terrorist groups in the region and to back the dictator in Syria, despite purported "moderate" President Rouhani holding office.
There are six candidates who were selected by the powerful Guardian Council. The candidates belong to two parts of the same system, which believes in the Vilayat-e Faqih and in the "values of the Islamic Republic and its revolution."
One candidate is the incumbent, Hassan Rouhani, who is a symbol for the suppression of the Iranian student movements in 1999 and 2003. Rouhani previously held senior positions at the security apparatus of the "Islamic Republic." According to his own memoirs, he was the first person who introduced the compulsory hijab in the country. During his presidential term, Iran is the second country in terms of executions and the world's leading executioner per capita. Economic meltdown and social problems have caused increasing protests by the middle class of Iran's society. Due to the social and economic crises, many "Iran experts" suggest that Rouhani has no chance of keeping his presidency for another term.
Another candidate is Ebrahim Raisi, an Iranian cleric who heads the richest religious financial conglomerate in Iran, the Astane Quds Razavi. He is known for his role in the mass execution of political prisoners in Iran over the last 30 years. He and Rouhani's justice minister were appointed by the founder of the Islamic Republic in Iran, Khomeini, to carry out and supervise the massacre of tens of thousands of political prisoners in the summer of 1988. Raisi is supported by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and is believed to be the supreme leader's preferred candidate.
The third candidate is Mohamad Bagher Ghalibaf, former police chief and currently the mayor of Tehran. During the suppression of the Iranian student movements in 1999 and 2003, he was the head of police, while Rouhani served as the secretary of the National Security Council. This means that Rouhani was Ghalibaf's boss when repressive security organs under his command crushed the students who rose up for freedom and democracy.
In short, the three main candidates have had an effective and significant role in the domestic repression and human rights abuses that occur frequently and systematically in the Iran.
Why do voters not care about the upcoming sham presidential elections in Iran? There are several reasons. The truth is that the Iranian people, and the youth, which constitute two thirds of the population, do not really want the regime's constitution and reject its backward medieval ideology.
The Iranian people believe and see that the so-called election is a selection between oppressors and corrupt politicians.
Under the realities explained above, how could the people of Iran really convince themselves to vote on 19 May? Well, they will not, but that will not stop the regime from declaring huge participation. Fraud and lies are the benchmarks of an election held in a theocracy like the one ruling Iran.
Hamid Bahrami is a freelance journalist and former political prisoner in Iran. He is a human rights and political activist. He left Iran recently and now lives in Glasgow, Scotland.