Why Does Iran Conduct Elections?

Nima Sharif
mullahs hang youth for listening to musicRight around this time every year, Iranians start preparing for their new year celebrations (No Rooz) which is on 21 March.  The festivity, observing the end of winter and beginning of spring and the Persian traditional New Year, celebrates life and brings joy and happiness to Iranian homes and it also brings a lot of shopping crowd to the streets.

That was not the case last Friday. 

Considering the fact that Friday is weekend in Iran and at a time just a week away from No Rooz, the streets of Tehran and other cities were unusually quiet.

Where was everyone?

On Friday 14 March, the Iranian regime, once again devised a parliamentary (Majlis) election.  Far from any real democratic election norms that you may have in mind, the candidates were actually hand picked by the ruling clergy in advance of the election. 

Going back to our question to see where all the Iranian people had gone on such an important day as this; well, some say they all left town.  But that cannot be the case since as soon as the voting finished, crowd started showing up again.  It seems they had all stayed home.

But wherever everyone was, there is one place they surly didn’t go to: the polls.

According to eyewitness reports most polling stations around the country were hardly visited by one or two voters.  Some report massive squadrons of mini buses taking ‘hired voters’ from one station to another for voting and filling up ballot boxes.

A couple of young security agents standing at one of the polling stations, when approached by a reporter, said they were told to stay there so the station “wouldn’t look so empty.”

Mobile phones were prohibited at the voting stations during the elections in order to prevent filming of the indolent turnout.

So why do mullah’s go through such a hassle to put on a show and keep on having elections while every time they just select a few people among themselves to come out of the ballot boxes? Why do they bother even having an election?

The mullahs’ regime having no popular support internally, with all the extreme violations of human rights it commits against the Iranian people, and also with its race to acquire nuclear weapons plus the export of terrorism in Iraq and through out the Middle East and the world, needs to legitimize itself somehow.  It needs to say that the people of Iran support it and it is at least to some extent, a democratic government.

If the Iranian regime had any popular support among the Iranians and had a democratically elected government, then it would be very hard to take it to the UN Security Council for development of nuclear arms and it also would be very hard to stand against for its meddling in Iraq and flaring violence in the region.

Furthermore, the mullahs ruling in Iran, with all the troubles foreseen ahead such as harsher UN sanctions and resolutions, and a face-off with the coalition forces in Iraq, need to pull themselves and their government together and purge any loose links and uncertain elements from among themselves.  A practice necessary for survival although it would leave the regime much weaker than before as the purged elements are themselves parts to the ruling strata and hardly could be consider opposition.

Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, described Friday’s total boycott of elections by the Iranian public a major defeat for the mullahs and rejection of the entire clerical rule. She noted that the charade was orchestrated to purge rival factions internal to the regime and to cleanse the future Majlis from adversaries to Ahmadinejad.

The Iranian Resistance had earlier called for a total boycott of the elections.

The successful nationwide boycott of the election charade of the mullahs by the Iranians is in fact a big ‘No’ vote to the theocratic regime as a whole.  This is a demonstration of the level of abhorrence towards the ruling regime among the Iranian public. 

The new Majlis as it appears, will be controlled by the most extremist elements inside the mullahs’ regime.  While this will make the regime quite fragile it will enable it to prepare for a standoff with the international community.


Nima Sharif is the Director of Human Rights Studies at Near East Policy Research Institute.