The Conservatives seem to have secured early gains in Iran’s 2020 parliamentary elections. Partial results show conservative allies of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei are likely to secure the majority.
Iran’s Domestic Political Reality: Low Turnout and Apathy
The Conservatives’ win is being attributed to low turnout due to coronavirus fears and populations’ general apathy towards the parliament’s ability to solve their problems. Some media reports claimed the elections saw the lowest voter turnout since 1979 when the-then Ayatollah toppled the Shah of Iran in a revolution.
The historically low turnout shows Iranians seem to have lost faith in their electoral process. But how does Iran select and elect its parliamentarians? The elections were held for 290 seats of which around 285 are directly elected whereas the remaining five are reserved for religious minorities.
The election campaigns were run on issues like bread and butter availability, rising cost of living, the state of the economy and delivering on meaningful change despite threats posed by the United States, sanctions and potential conflicts.
How to Qualify as a Candidate
To qualify as a candidate in Iran, an individual must be an Iranian citizen between the age of 35-70, have a masters degree or equivalent, prove his allegiance to Islam and must have served in the army in case of a man.
With these boxes ticked, the candidate then seeks permission from the country’s 12-member guardian council. The council considers religious and political inclinations and aspirations while rejecting or accepting a candidates’ eligibility to run for parliament or as it is called in Iran, shoora. The council consists of 12 members: six are nominated directly by the Supreme Leader whereas the remaining six are elected by the parliament.
However, securing council’s approval can be very difficult and the odds are always 50:50. For the 2020 elections, around 12,000 candidates filed their papers to the council. Of which, the council rejected 9,000 including 90 members of the current parliament. The extremely high number of qualifications are unprecedented — most since the 1979 revolution.
Generally in most cases, the Supreme Leader and loyalist council screens out any candidates who are perceived as too reformist or moderate for the regime. But some applications by the less popular reformist candidates are also accepted who favor negotiations with the West.
For example, Ali Motahari, a vocal critic of the republic was barred from participating in elections this year. The rejections have made it more difficult for reformists to secure a louder voice in the country’s internal and external affairs.
This time around, the campaign has revolved primarily around financial issues. With inflation at 33.5pc and GDP growth rate at negative nine percent in 2019, the population is eyeing some relief from the rising cost of living and financial hardships.
The campaign was therefore focused on these issues with all factions contesting the elections vowing to turnaround the economy. But with the mass disqualifications of the reformist candidates, the conservatives have gained ground selling anti-West rhetoric. Instead of an reconciliation approach to ease voters’ worries, the conservatives doubled down on anti-West statements blaming the ills on the US anti-Iran policies such as the abrupt withdrawal of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA).
Still, many question the conservatives’ ability to deliver on the promised beyond issuing statements. With the US sanctions now coupled with the Financial Action Task Force’s blacklisting of Iran, the country’s financial woes are likely to get even worse than they already are at the moment.
Balloting and Counting
The total number of eligible voters in 2020 elections were around 58 million. For any candidate to win, she or he must secure at least 25 percent of the total votes. If no candidate gains votes above the 25 percent mark, a second round is held those constituencies. The candidates serve a four-year term before resubmitting their papers with the guardian council to become eligible for re-elections.
Iranian elections can be described as democratic in terms of the fact that voters cast votes for their candidates, but multiple interventions in the form of the guardian council and closeness to the Supreme Leader challenge the fairness and transparency of the entire process.