Advantage hardliners

The parliamentary elections in Iran come at a critical time for the Islamic regime. Unlike the previous elections where hardliners already in power fought against moderate and pro-reform figures seeking a comeback, this year’s elections hold huge importance for the future of the Iranian regime. The events of the past four months, starting with the social turmoil in cities in November 2019 until the shooting down of the Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 on January 8 , 2020, not only shifted back the global attention to Iran, but also eroded much of the political legitimacy of the Iranian regime. The brutal response of Tehran’s authorities to the unrest in the country after the government announced a 33% increase in fuel prices created distrust of the regime. The regime’s popularity faded even more after the government lied for days about what caused Flight 752 to crash and finally admitted downing the plane. As a result, many Iranians are frustrated by the whole nomenclature, either hardliners or moderates, and will probably not participate in the elections.

Disqualification of moderates

The low turnout would make it impossible for the regime to pretend that it could prevail ideologically against U.S. President Donald Trump’s maximum pressure strategy. This comes as a surprise more than 40 days after the assassination of Major General Qassem Soleimani at the orders of Mr. Trump in Iraq, which seemed to have helped the regime in Tehran on the domestic front and paused the anti-Iran regional outcry in Iraq and Lebanon. In a poll conducted by the Institute of Social Studies and Research at Tehran University, over 76% of the population across Tehran province said they will not take part in the elections. In addition, of more than 15,000 people who applied to run for parliament, 7,296 were disqualified by the Guardian Council from running. The 12-member Guardian Council consists of six Shiite clerics appointed by the Supreme Leader and six lawyers elected by parliament. It is charged with ensuring that draft laws do not contradict religious laws or Iran’s constitution, and overseeing elections and legislation. On paper, running for parliament is open to all Iranians who are between the ages of 30 and 75 years, but this time many reformist contenders were disqualified in the majority of constituencies due to embezzlement and corruption. As a result, hardliners are expected to win big. The Iranian government announced this month that it was preparing a new draft law for a referendum that would limit the powers of the Guardian Council of the Constitution. Even if this law is accepted, it will not take effect for these polls.

The disqualification of moderate candidates is the biggest cause of discontent for the Iranians. With hardliners in control, the government is set to lead to an even more aggressive foreign policy. Also, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) will see its power more strengthened than before as a result of the elections. With President Hassan Rouhani’s camp being weakened, Iran doesn’t look likely to produce a détente with the U.S. and EU. Though reformists could try to reunite as some kind of an opposition to a monopoly of power by hardliners, the truth is that they have lost a great deal of legitimacy and credibility in Iran over the years. Young Iranians have been disillusioned with Mr. Rouhani’s government and angered by poverty, high unemployment and corruption. As a result, for many of those who will not vote in the elections, one of the main reasons is also that Mr. Rouhani and his reformist Cabinet distanced themselves from the millions who voted for them in the presidential elections on promises of reform and action against corruption. Also, it is true that with the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration and designed to bring Iran to heel, Iranian hardliners, especially members of the IRGC, seem to have become even more assertive and ready to close ranks. Therefore, what the upcoming elections show clearly is that despite decline of legitimacy, the establishment tries to remain united, because as long as it is united, the Islamic Republic will likely continue to survive.

Ramin Jahanbegloo is Director, Mahatma Gandhi Centre for Peace, Jindal Global University, Sonipat

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