While many expect a dull Iranian election in March, some anticipate a notable showdown: Hardliner President Ebrahim Raisi against his predecessor, Hassan Rouhani.
The competition, however, does not take place in the parliamentary election, but in the simultaneously held Assembly of Experts where 88 clerics will be elected to a body most likely to determine Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's successor at one point during its 8-year term.
Iranian journalist Ehsan Mazandarani's tweet highlighted the potential for a competition between Raisi and Rouhani should they both decide to run in the Tehran Province. Both individuals currently serve as members of the Assembly of Experts in the Tehran Province. It's worth noting that the Tehran Province has 16 representatives in the assembly, whereas the Province of Semnan has only one delegate.
Readers speculated that the Guardian Council might even disqualify Rouhani for the election to make sure that Raisi can make it to the Assembly smoothly without having to face Rouhani who appears to be more popular among the voters. A safe way out of trouble for Rouhani would be naming himself a candidate from his birthplace province of Semnan.
This makes sense, another reader pointed out, only if Iranians bother to take part in the March 2024 election. The latest two elections in Iran, the parliamentary vote in 2020 and the presidential election in 2021 had turnouts barely over 20 percent in most constituencies. That was too low in a country where an election turnout less than 60 percent was considered too bad.
The disqualification of reformist and moderate candidates and the government's overwhelming biased campaign in favor of hardliners such as Raisi are said to be the reasons for the low turnout. With the massive protests in 2022 many observers are led to believe that the situation is likely to be even worse in March.
While there is significant concern among politicians regarding the parliamentary election and its turnout, there is a noticeable absence of discourse regarding the Assembly of Experts, where competition is minimal. Few Iranians can name three or four Assembly of Experts members, and even fewer are aware of the body's activities. Over the past 30 years, Khamenei has not permitted the assembly to scrutinize his performance. Rather than the Assembly supervising the leader's activities, it is Khamenei who imparts guidance to the Assembly of Experts during their annual meetings.
Some politicians, such as the Parties House Chairman Manouchehr Mottaki have politely and cautiously reminded that before deciding whether to take part in the elections or not, the people will look at the government's performance. What he meant was possibly the adverse impact of people's unhappiness about the government's economic performance which has made life difficult for nearly all walks of life in Iran.
Mottaki said that many Iranian political parties and their leaders fear that the March 2024 elections are likely to have low turnouts. Meanwhile, his comment about "some of the parties willing to take part in the elections," indicated that some of them may not be interested in the elections for the time being.
Equally pessimistic about the upcoming elections was hardliner politician Bijan Moqaddam who is close to the powerful core of the Islamic Republic. He said in an interview with Nameh News that the government's performance will have an impact on the election turnout. Meanwhile, to downplay the importance of the two last elections' extremely low turnout, Moqaddam said that the high turnout in the previous decades have raised people's expectations.
He remarked, "There are approximately six months left before the elections, and the government's actions could potentially stimulate increased participation." Moqaddam may have placed undue optimism in the Raisi administration's capacity to bring about positive change within this relatively brief timeframe.