Iranian people boycott the elections

Alireza Jafarzadeh Explains to Al-Hurra Why Iran Will Reject Khamenei’s Sham Election on March 1

By NCRI-US Staff, March 1, 2024

In an interview with Al-Hurra, Alireza Jafarzadeh, deputy director of the National Council of Iranian Resistance in Washington, elaborates why the March 1 sham elections held by the clerical regime are going to face an unprecedented boycott.

Explaining why the regime’s Guardian Council is purging hundreds of candidates, even those currently holding official positions, he asserted that the Assembly of Experts, responsible for selecting the next supreme leader, is filled with individuals loyal to Khamenei, including his potential successor, his son Mojtaba.

Jafarzadeh also underscored the regime’s deep state control, facilitated by Khamenei through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and other institutions. He argued that Iranians perceive elections as futile due to the regime’s corrupt practices and economic mismanagement, which have left 80% of the population living below the poverty line. He predicted empty streets on voting day, despite regime efforts to fabricate high turnout.

While the interview was published on February 28 on the al-Hurra website, a translated version of the interview is reflected below.


Iran: Reports of Extensive Election Boycott Aimed at Undermining Regime’s Authority

Iranians are preparing to cast their votes on Friday to elect members of Parliament and the Assembly of Experts amidst growing calls for a boycott. While some anticipate the election results, many view the level of participation as the most crucial aspect of these elections.

Alireza Jafarzadeh, an Iranian opposition figure and deputy director of the National Council of Iranian Resistance in Washington, elaborated on the opposition’s stance in an interview with the Al-Hurra website. He highlighted how the regime aims to leverage these elections to solidify its power base and reinforce the conservatives’ control in the absence of viable alternatives. Conversely, the opposition seeks to underscore that real change in the country will not materialize through ballots but through sustained protests.

Jafarzadeh emphasized to the Al-Hurra website, “Ground reports suggest that the so-called elections will witness a widespread public boycott, including from factions within the regime itself. The situation is anticipated to be even more severe than in previous elections. This is because the Iranian populace has forsaken the ballot boxes as a catalyst for change for many years. Instead, they have turned to the streets. Since 2017, all protests have been centered around regime change.”

He further stated, “The game is up. The sentiment among the populace is unequivocally against the entire system.”

According to the Associated Press, mounting dissatisfaction with the faltering economy, prolonged mass protests, escalating tensions with the West over Iran’s nuclear program, and the nation’s support for Russia in its conflict with Ukraine have prompted many to quietly express their intention not to participate in these elections.

Over 61 million Iranians are eligible to participate in the upcoming elections on Friday to elect members of the Parliament and the Assembly of Experts. These elections will take place across approximately 59,000 polling stations scattered throughout various regions of the country.

During the elections, Iranians will vote to elect 120 * members of Parliament for a four-year term in a single-round ballot. Additionally, they will select members of the Assembly of Experts, a body comprised of 88 clergy members elected for an eight-year term through direct universal suffrage. The Assembly of Experts is responsible for selecting the new Supreme Leader and overseeing his activities, including the potential for his dismissal.

Anticipated Election Boycott

Efforts to encourage citizen participation in the upcoming elections have been underscored by officials, notably by the Supreme Leader of the Republic, Ali Khamenei. On Wednesday, Khamenei emphasized the importance of voting as a “national duty” and emphasized, “There is no reason not to vote.”

During a gathering in Tehran with a group of young first-time voters, Khamenei highlighted the vigilance of Iran’s adversaries, stating, “Iran’s enemies closely monitor the participation of the Iranian people in the electoral arena.”

Notably, this year, the state-owned polling center has not released information regarding the anticipated voter turnout, unlike previous electoral cycles.

Meanwhile, calls for boycotting the elections have gained momentum in recent weeks. Narges Mohammadi, a women’s rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate currently imprisoned, denounced the election as a “sham.” In a statement, she expressed, “The Islamic Republic, with its brutal repression, the killing of youth on the streets, and its practice of executions, imprisonment, and torture of men and women, deserves national condemnation and disgrace, globally.”

The 2020 legislative elections marked the lowest voter turnout since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, with only 42.57 percent of voters participating amid the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.

On Tuesday, the reformist newspaper “Ham Mihin” ran a headline titled, “The political atmosphere remains icy,” drawing parallels between the political climate and the recent wave of cold and snow that swept through various Iranian regions.

In Tehran, where voter turnout stood at a mere 26 percent in 2020, there is a noticeable decrease in the number of candidate banners compared to previous election campaigns. Tehran served as one of the focal points of the widespread protest movement following the death of Mahsa Amini in September 2022. Amini died days after being arrested by morality police for not adhering to the strict dress code.

Out of 21 Iranians recently surveyed by The Associated Press, only five expressed intent to vote, while 13 stated they would not, and three remained undecided.

Amin, a 21-year-old university student who preferred to be identified by his first name only, voiced his concerns, stating, “If I voice objections to certain shortcomings, many police and security personnel will try to silence me. However, if I were to perish from hunger on the corner of a main street, they would show no reaction.”

At a press conference held by the National Council of Resistance of Iran last Thursday, Iranian opponents declared that Iranians would boycott the elections, citing concerns about the political system being manipulated in favor of Khamenei and his preferred candidates.

Electoral and political problems

The Guardian Council, responsible for overseeing electoral processes and political affairs, approved the eligibility of 15,200 individuals to run for the legislative elections. However, it rejected the nominations of over 30,000 others, including prominent figures such as former reformist president Hassan Rouhani (2013-2021). Notably, Rouhani’s nomination for the Assembly of Experts was invalidated despite his 24-year membership.

The Guardian Council is tasked with reviewing applicants’ files for candidacy in the four elections (Presidency, Parliament, Assembly of Experts, and municipal councils) and determining their eligibility for candidacy. In an interview with Al-Hurra website, an Iranian opposition member explains that the Guardian Council, under the control of the Supreme Leader, is engaged in what they term “purification,” which involves excluding candidates who are not fully obedient to the Supreme Leader.

While the Parliament theoretically oversees the executive branch, ratifies treaties, and addresses other matters, in reality, the supreme authority in Iran rests with the Supreme Leader. According to Jafarzadeh, Parliament’s role is to rubber-stamp every directive issued by the Supreme Leader, including the allocation of funds to his proxies in the region and the allocation of additional resources to suppress the Iranian people.

As a result, “this election holds no significance for the Iranian people.” Extremists have dominated Parliament for the past two decades, with chants of “Death to America” often echoing in its chambers.

Under the leadership of Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, a former Revolutionary Guard general known for supporting the crackdown on Iranian university students in 1999, the legislature passed a bill in 2020 that significantly reduced Tehran’s cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, a UN-affiliated organization.

More recently, Parliament shifted its focus to issues surrounding mandatory hijab for women following Amini’s death. This sparked protests and calls for regime overthrow, prompting a security crackdown resulting in the deaths of over 500 people and the arrest of more than 22,000.

President Rouhani remarked on Wednesday that voting should be an act undertaken by those seeking to challenge the status quo and pursue greater freedom. Former President Mohammad Khatami, a leader of the reformist movement from 1997 to 2005, stated that Iran is “far from having free and competitive elections.”

However, unlike opponents abroad who view any participation as a concession to the authorities, the two former presidents did not advocate for boycotting the elections. It is anticipated that these elections will further solidify the decline of the reformist and moderate camp, which has been marginalized by the conservative and extremist factions that have held all power since Ibrahim Raisi was elected president in 2021.

According to Jafarzadeh, “These elections are structured to benefit the regime, leading to a higher level of boycott by the people compared to previous elections.” Jafarzadeh elaborates that elections for the Assembly of Experts, responsible for selecting the next supreme leader, are conducted by members of the Guardian Council, which determines the eligibility of candidates. “These individuals are all loyal to Khamenei,” he adds.

He asserts that Khamenei recognizes the significance of this council “because he is contemplating the future of his regime, as the Assembly of Experts serves an eight-year term and holds the potential to determine the next leader’s fate, with Khamenei eyeing the appointment of his son, Mojtaba.”

The analyst and activist contends that “More importantly, this entire election underscores the existence of a deep state in Iran that orchestrates the ruling regime.”

He further elaborated, “Khamenei himself runs a deep state that exercises control over Parliament, the judiciary, and the executive branch through the Revolutionary Guards. His vast office, overseen by his son with full backing from the IRGC, employs thousands and effectively manages all regime affairs through a mafia network controlled by Khamenei.”

As a result, the oppositionist views the elections as entirely “meaningless,” even from the perspective of the regime’s supporters, as “the ordinary people have long abandoned the regime.”

Difficult economic situation

The elections are taking place amidst increasing dissatisfaction in Iran due to the high cost of living and an inflation rate nearing 50 percent. Mohsen Omidbakhsh, a forty-year-old employee, shared with AFP in Tehran, “People’s pockets are empty,” further stating, “I do not think that the next Parliament will be able to change this situation.”

According to an Iranian opposition figure speaking to the Al-Hurra website, 80 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and the situation is deteriorating. The value of the Iranian currency has dropped to 20 percent of its value a decade ago. It’s clear to people that while Iran possesses money, resources, and revenues, it primarily benefits the IRGC and its proxies in the region, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen. “They are now getting money, while people are getting poorer,” he added.

Jafarzadeh commented, “This is what made the situation so explosive: the Iranian people are completely fed up with these people. They see the IRGC as thieves plundering the entire nation.” He continued, “Iranians will not go to the polls because they believe that their future and economy will not change for the better.”

He added, “On Friday, you will see empty streets, but the regime will send cameras and reporters to talk about the large crowds that came to vote and will extend the voting hours because the crowds were large and were unable to do so.” He further stated, “After that, they will announce greater participation this year than the previous year, but that will not change the reality on the ground.”

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