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Iran holds parliamentary, assembly elections amid economic concerns

  • Iranians vote amid discontent
  • Low turnout expected
  • Reformists largely barred

In an election marred by discontent over economic difficulties and restrictions on political and social liberties, Iranians are electing a new parliament.

Friday’s election will serve as the initial official gauge of public sentiment following the anti-government demonstrations of 2022-2023, which precipitated some of the most severe political unrest since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Despite the admonitions of Iranian authorities and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the turnout at polling stations in Tehran, the nation’s capital, seemed to be relatively low.

Reformists, or politicians advocating for change within the country’s theocracy, have been largely barred from standing for office by the authorities. As a result, the election field consists primarily of conservative or hardline figures.

As a result of Western sanctions imposed in response to Iran’s swiftly advancing nuclear programme, the arming of militia proxies in the Middle East, and support for Russia in its war on Ukraine, the Iranian economy remains stagnant.

Certain electorates on Friday recognised the difficulties that Iran is confronted with.

“There are numerous issues; there are far too many,” one voter, identified only by her surname Sajjad, stated. “We exude sadness and anguish, and we express our disapproval to the greatest extent possible. “Those responsible will, God willing, begin to consider us; the likelihood is that the majority of them do care.”

Khamenei, aged 84, voted among the initial candidates in an election that will also determine the composition of the nation’s Assembly of Experts. The eight-year term of the council of clerics responsible for selecting a successor supreme leader in the event of Khamenei’s demise or resignation gains greater significance, especially in light of Khamenei’s advanced age.

Approximately 15,000 candidates are competing for seats in the Islamic Consultative Assembly, formerly a 290-member parliament. A mere 116 candidates are regarded as comparatively moderate or reform-oriented. Opponents of radical reforms who fail to register due to pervasive disqualifications by authorities are prohibited from doing so.

Owing to official surveys indicating that only about 41 percent of eligible Iranians would cast ballots, experts anticipated a low turnout.

The 2020 parliamentary election witnessed a record-low turnout of 42.5 percent, whereas in 2016, approximately 62 percent of eligible electors participated.

Congregation of Experts

In addition, Iranians cast their ballots for the 144 candidates vying for the 88-member Assembly of Experts; they are all prominent members of the country’s influential clergy.

Insofar as the future trajectory of Iran is concerned, the assembly election may prove pivotal, according to Sina Toossi, a senior non-resident fellow at the Centre for International Policy.

“The supreme leader, who has the final say on all major political, religious, and security matters, is appointed and supervised by the Assembly of Experts,” he explained, adding that Khamenei has been in power since 1989.

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Toossi stated, “There is widespread speculation that he may not live to see the end of the eight-year term of the next assembly; therefore, the members elected on Friday could be tasked with selecting his successor.”

According to Roxane Farmanfarmaian, an esteemed scholar specialising in modern Middle East politics and international relations at the University of Cambridge, the anticipated low turnout could potentially be attributed to a confluence of economic challenges and a populace sentiment that separates it from the “political momentum.”

Farmanfarmaian told, “There is a great deal of despondency involved” and that it has become “very clear” that the Iranian leadership does not care whether or not the population votes.

She further stated, “They do not perceive it as a challenge to their own legitimacy.”

Adnan Tabatabai, an Iranian affairs analyst and chief executive of CARPO, a Middle Eastern-focused think tank, stated that the absence of representation to resolve their grievances is one of the reasons why some individuals believe their vote will be inconsequential.

“While their main focus undoubtedly pertains to economic matters, it is evident that there are also cultural, social, and political grievances that are evident… “a dearth of candidates who could credibly represent the concerns of the people”.

“Therefore, a disengagement is occurring at this time… among those who are dissatisfied with the present state of affairs,” Tabatabai explained.

Voting locations will remain accessible until 8 pm local time (16:30 GMT) subsequent to a two-hour extension granted by authorities. Election preliminary results could be available as early as Saturday.

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