Iran: Election or Referendum?
Iranian society is enduring hardships on many fronts under the reign of the mullahs.
The spectrum is quite broad, including domestic, regional, and international matters, economic challenges for its citizens, and ethnic and religious inequalities. In all of these areas, the regime's report card reflects an atmosphere of disappointment and frustration.
In this respect (according to the Iranian calendar year), the Year 1400 presidential election (to be held June 18) is being held during the most unprecedented public despair. There is even a boycott of public participation in the election compared with other elections in the last forty years of the Islamic Republic.
In an interview with Le Monde, Faezeh Rafsanjani, Hashemi Rafsanjani's daughter, and a dissident, called for a boycott of this election.
The unprecedented antagonism between the ordinary people and the government has intensified.
This presidential election should be evaluated from different angles. The accumulation of public discontent, people's total distrust regarding the regime's economic plans, the destruction of the middle classes and lower strata of society, as well as the weakness and crisis of the legitimacy for the Supreme Leader, leads the society closer to a revolt. It is now a while that the slogan "My vote, NO Islamic Republic but YES to the Democratic Republic" has been shared widely on different social media platforms. In a way, this presidential election could be considered a referendum for the regime in Tehran.
Khamenei, fearful of the low turnout of people at the election booths, solicits any support he can muster, even from those close to him and his regime. Khamenei states, "Nothing can replace the elections for the country and the strength of the foundations of the country's authority, and the people should not be discouraged from the elections" (Khabar Channel, May 06, 2021)
The main challenge of the country is the antagonism between the government and the people.
The Islamic Republic has wholly failed in development, progress, and social justice. This reality goes back to the structure of this regime. An analyst close to the regime says that if the grievances and structural flaws within the government remain unresolved, everything may collapse. (Etemad newspaper, Saturday, April 17).
The Iranian regime has experienced the 2017 and 2019 uprisings initiated due to poverty, unemployment, etc. Dissatisfaction is now manifesting throughout Iran in the form of nationwide demonstrations. Point and case are the demonstrations and gatherings of teacher retirees and workers and those who have lost their capital in Iran's stock market. The national currency value has fallen as much as 10 times its previous value, by most estimates, and there is continued inflation and negative economic growth.
The Islamic Republic is facing a significant problem of legitimacy. The people do not trust the government, and they are suspicious of the government's plans and promises. The regime has been on the high alert since the widespread uprising of 2012 and cannot close its eyes on any protest or gathering. In the regime's eyes, the plans to protect the regime from collapse are superior to any other method. The Iranian society is demanding and dissatisfied. The government certainly cannot turn its back on the people and expect to survive.
Elections and security
The Islamic Republic has always considered the high level of public participation in elections as power and national security parameters. Still, in the last two years, it has inevitably retreated from this component. According to the regime's officials, despite employing vote-buying and intimidation tactics, such as the threat of cutting salaries and subsidies, only 16 out of every 100,000 eligible voters voted in the 2018 parliamentary elections. Many authorities and analysts close to Khamenei believe that people have no interest in the election, and no widespread participation will occur.
"Before we worry about the political consequences of low turnout, we should worry about the social consequences," said a journalist. "I think what is happening is social despair, people's frustration with the improvement of socio-cultural-economic conditions and the subsequent explosion of social anger. Currently, the main problem of the society and all the candidates is that they have a big competitor called non-participation in the elections."
Khamenei's contractionary policy
In a polarized environment, when two factions run for office, radicalism intensifies. Differences between the rivals will surface more often, leading to wider social gaps and an opportunity for the people's anger to explode. A tiny spark could cause nationwide protests similar to what happened in the 2012 presidential election engineered Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s second term.
In his Persian New Year message (March 21), Khamenei made it clear that he wanted to avoid bipolarity and prevent candidates from competing. In other words, like any other dictator, Khamenei would like to install his kind of president and bring the Hassan Rouhani and Mohammad Javid Zarif era to an end.
To this end, the Guardian Council, which approves or rejects the qualifications of candidates, has already begun to legislate in a very unconventional way to disqualify any candidate it wishes and thus fully engineer these elections.
The public's lack of trust is more dangerous than economic poverty
Mahmoud Sadeghi, a former member of Iran's parliament, points more explicitly to the people's distrust and hatred as the main challenge in this election and says: It is not, and this distrust has existed in the past and has now intensified" (Shargh newspaper, May 1, 2021).
Encouraging people to go to the polls is like a miracle. The presidential election in Iran is considered a referendum rather than an election. Therefore, participation or non-participation is by default. There is no doubt that the Islamic Republic as a political system is facing a crisis due to its many internal and external problems and its 40-year horrible performance. This crisis can cause an explosion by the low turnout in the elections and several other challenges. So far, the coronavirus has prevented widespread unrest from materializing. "Let's be vigilant and think that today the sharp decline and the poverty of public trust in the government have sounded the alarm more than economic poverty." (Arman newspaper, May 6).
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