Iran Elections 2021: Nationwide boycott movement gains traction

his article is part of our coverage of the Iranian regime’s June 18 presidential elections

May 3, 2021—In recent weeks, we explained in a series of articles that while we are still a month away from the Iranian regime’s sham presidential election scheduled for June 18, the ruling mullahs still have to deal with nominating serious candidates.

The power struggle between different regime factions has increased, and a leaked audio recording of the regime’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has only added to its internal crisis. Zarif acknowledged in a seven-hour interview that the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) dominates the regime’s foreign and domestic policies.

Despite regime supreme leader Ali Khamenei issuing a warning back in March over division among the regime’s factions, the current circumstances have increased the gap between various currents.

“The audiotape has led to polarization in both the establishment and the society. This can lead to social confrontation,” the state-run IRNA news agency wrote on April 29.

 “Political polarization will result in social gaps that turn in the radicalism in the society,” according to the Vatan-e Emrouz daily on April 27.

Vatan-e Emrouz also warned about the powder keg situation of the Iranian society. “The Iranian society is in unique circumstances. Public discontent, increasing economic pressure on the society’s middle and lower strata can lead to passivity (non-participation), or even in some cases, radical action (urban riots),” the article adds.

The desired candidate for Khamenei is none other than the current Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi.

In an unprecedented move, more than 220 members of the Majlis (parliament) from fractions affiliated to Khamenei issued an open letter inviting Raisi to announce his candidacy.

On April 28, more than 1,400 so-called “political activists and academics,” who are in reality members of the IRGC paramilitary Basij forces, also called on Raisi to take part in the elections.

Contrary to the regime’s previous elections, where the Guardian Council rejected many officially announced candidates and allowed only those approved by Khamenei to run, this time the regime has disqualified many even before their official candidacy.

The disqualification of Hassan Khomeini, grandson to regime founder Ruhollah Khomeini, who associates himself with the so-called reformist current, is one obvious signs of this policy. Others, such as former Majlis speaker Ali Larijani, have yet to announce their candidacy.

The so-called reformist current has yet to rally behind a certain candidate. They are concerned of measures by the Guardian Council, the body that oversees the qualification of election candidates. All 12 members of the Council are directly or indirectly appointed by Khamenei.

There are many from both of the regime’s factions that have announced their candidacy, such as former IRGC commander Mohsen Rezai, former Defense Minister and senior IRGC official Hossein Dehghan, former head of the IRGC’s Khatam Al-Anbiya garrison Saeed Mohammad, former Oil Minister and senior IRGC official Rostam Ghassemi, and former Interior Minister Mostafa Tajzadeh.

However, according to regime experts and state-run media, none are adequate figures capable of putting down the fire of the regime’s escalating crises.

“What is worrying is that the current candidates have neither charisma nor a bright record or jihadi performance. It is no surprise people are not motivated about the elections,” the state-run daily Resalat wrote on April 24. “Jihadi” is a term used in Iran’s state media as a matter of praise.

The regime is currently grappling with severe domestic and international crises, such as crippling U.S. sanctions, high inflation, skyrocketing prices, widespread social protests, public dissent, and a young society of 85 million with more than 80 percent living under the poverty line and are demanding change.

Therefore, the main reason behind hesitations over official candidacy announcements is fear from the sensitive conditions of the society.

“Based on the most optimistic estimation, turnout in the upcoming elections will be between 40 to 60 percent,” the Sharq daily wrote on April 29.

Also, the Mostaghel daily wrote on April 29: “What is common to both currents is a possible decrease in voter participation in the election. Without a doubt 37 percent of eligible voters will not participate.”

In recent weeks, boycotting the regime’s elections has turned into a widespread social movement. Many segments of the Iranian society have declared their lack of interest in voting through weekly protests.  “We have seen no justice and we will not vote!” is a certain slogan heard these days in different protests reported from various cities across the country. From small investors in the stock market to pensioners, nurses, farmers, and workers, a large number of Iranian communities are dissatisfied with the current economic situation and their living conditions.

“We will not vote, we’ve heard so many lies,” workers in several cities chanting in their rallies on the International Labor Day, voicing their frustration with the entire regime and their belief that change in the political lineup will bring no change to economic conditions and people’s lives.

At the same time, Resistance Units, a network of supporters of the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), have been conducting a nationwide campaign to boycott the regime’s election.

These efforts are welcomed and have been receiving widespread support from the general public. The Iranian people are increasingly frustrated with the corruption and tyranny that have characterized Iran’s rulers in the past four decades. In April alone, MEK Resistance Units have on a daily basis organized campaigns in more than 250 areas across all of Iran’s provinces calling for a nationwide boycott of the regime’s sham presidential election.

In this regard, the Hamdeli daily, affiliated to Khamenei’s faction wrote on April 25: “Before we worry about the political consequences of a low election turnout, we should worry about the social consequences. All candidates have a serious obstacle being non-participation in the election.”

“We should think about this, especially after the November 2019 events,” the piece adds with reference to Iranian people’s nationwide protests in which they clearly demanded regime change. However, the mullahs’ security forces gunned down at least 1,500 innocent protesters in the streets.

“A large part of the society has boycotted elections due to mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis, economic woes, pressure on people’s livelihood, officials’ negligence regarding the social events of January 2018 and November 2019. Given the status quo, a significant voter turnout is unlikely,” the Jahane Sanat daily wrote on April 25.

Last week’s developments prove yet again what has become undeniable: there are no free and fair elections in Iran under the mullahs’ regime. According to his own words, Khamenei is seeking a “hezbollahi” president with “jihadi performance” to unify his regime. He has shown his concerns and has been willing to directly intervene to eliminate his rivals by preventing them from running for office. However, whether he can control the power struggle that can result in social gaps and social uproar, as seen following the 2009 presidential election, is unclear.

What is certain is that the campaign to “boycott of the mullahs’ sham elections” has turned into a massive and unstoppable movement.

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