Former President Hassan Rouhani with his circle of ex-officials in July 2022

Fair and Free Elections A Test For Islamic Republic, Rouhani Says

Wednesday, 04/05/2023
Maryam Sinaiee

British Iranian journalist and political analyst

Former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says the Islamic Republic faces a test in the 2024 parliamentary elections if they are not fair and free.

“The eyes of the world are on the elections so that they see, and we see, whether the elections are held in a healthy, competitive and free manner or not,” the former president said at a meeting with the senior officials of his government, former lawmakers, journalists and politicians on the occasion of the New Year.

While describing the events of the past few months as sad, he reiterated that the answer to people’s demands in the areas of foreign and domestic policies and economy could be found by holding referendums as envisaged by the Constitution of the Islamic Republic.

This was the second time since the beginning of nationwide protests in mid-September that Rouhani suggested fair and free elections and holding referendums as the only way the regime could overcome huge popular discontent within the existing political structure.

Domestic solidarity and the ability to solve problems cannot be attained with “minority government and parliament,” Rouhani said at a meeting with journalists in February referring to widespread protests since mid-September. “The key to solving today’s problems is returning to competitive elections and people’s extensive presence on the scene.”

He also said elections of the first parliament after the Islamic revolution in 1980 could be taken as a model for free elections “to help the country navigate through these difficult circumstances by relying on people’s power.”

Rouhani visiting parliament in May 2020

The government has set March 1, 2024, as the election date. The regime is likely to have a very difficult time raising any interest in the elections among the hugely disillusioned citizens many among whom said during the recent anti-government protests they wanted not reforms but the end of the Islamic Republic because of its failure to improve the economy, its restriction of social freedoms and its corruption.

After the very lackluster parliamentary elections of 2020 and presidential elections of 2021, in which turnout dropped to unprecedented levels in the history of the Islamic Republic, many said they would never vote again.

The Khamenei-appointed Guardian Council barred even the least controversial reformists and many moderates as well as nearly one-third of the sitting lawmakers from running in February 2020 in the elections of the 11th parliament. Consequently, hardliners won a decisive majority.

The elections were held within a few months from the nationwide anti-government protests of November 2021 during which hundreds were killed by security force.

Not only the opposition, but also most reformist parties and groups boycotted the elections in which only 42.5 percent of the electorate voted. According to rather dubious official data, the minimum turnout for the previous elections was 50.8 percent in 1996 with the highest turnout, 67 percent, in the elections of 2002 in which reformists gained an overwhelming majority in the parliament.

In the presidential elections of 2021, the Guardian Council barred nearly anyone that it considered as challenging to hardliner Ebrahim Raisi including the moderate conservative former Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani.

The government said 48 percent had voted in the 2021 elections but 13 percent of the votes, apparently cast by those who thought not voting could get them into trouble with the authorities, were blank or otherwise not valid.

These elections also followed widespread anti-government protests in July of the same year. At the time, Rouhani said at a cabinet meeting that he had written a letter to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to protest the Guardian Council’s extensive disqualification of candidates in the presidential race. “We cannot forsake [the role of] ballot boxes. What are you going to substitute for ballot boxes if you forsake them?”

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