One Big Thing: Were Iran’s Parliamentary Elections Actually Democratic?
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What is it?
- On Friday, February 21 Iran held parliamentary elections, which was dominated by the ruling conservative coalition – further solidifying Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s strength throughout the country by giving him a loyal legislature.
- Importantly, only 25% of Tehran and 43% nationally participated in the election, making it one of the lowest turnout rates in Iran’s electoral history. Khamenei blamed the low participation on fears about the Coronavirus, which has hit Iran.
- Furthermore, the Atlantic Council reported that of the 15,000 candidates who applied, nearly half were disqualified – not exactly an open and democratic process. Many experts believe that hardliners' intent was to manipulate the electoral result in their favor by disqualifying many of the moderate and reformist candidates.
Why is it important?
- Iran is ruled by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. While presidential and parliamentary elections are regularly held, it’s Ayatollah Khamenei who truly runs the country.
- President Hassan Rouhani is the current president and had made some efforts to normalize relations with the United States – including the 2015 nuclear agreement. However, many experts believe that the newly elected members of parliament will swing Iran back towards international isolation.
- There is widespread discontent throughout Iran. Recently, Iranians have shown their displeasure with Khamenei and Rouhani as massive anti-regime protests erupted in November 2019 over a price-hike on car fuel and food shortages. Subsequently, Iranians took to the streets in protests January after the administration admitted to “accidentally” shooting down a Ukrainian Airliner.
- Iranians do not live in a free and democratic society even though they vote. They cannot peacefully assemble as civil protests are often violently suppressed by security forces – in Dec 2019, over 304 protesters were killed by security forces in Tehran. Political prisoners are left to rot in jail and sometimes killed without due process, and women are largely still considered second class citizens.
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