Former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a campaign event

Iran's Ex-President Warns Hardliners Over Low Election Turnout

Friday, 01/12/2024

Former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has voiced his concern regarding the potential for an "extremely" low turnout in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Rouhani criticized the government for discouraging a majority of eligible voters from going to the polls in the 2020 parliamentary elections. In that election, the hardliner-dominated Guardian Council ruthlessly barred nearly all the reformist and moderate candidates from running by rejecting their credentials.

He also pointed out that people's participation was also minimal in the 2021 Presidential election, as a result of biased vetting of candidates, and disqualifying the most prominent contenders. As a result, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s hand-picked choice, Ebrahim Raisi, cruised to victory in another low-turnout vote.

Rouhani told the Guardian Council, and possibly Khamenei: You said that [my] government lacked popularity. But why did you disqualify everyone who supported [my] government.

He went on to emphasize, "It was painful to witness the smallest-ever turnout of eligible voters in Iran during those elections." In the 2020 and 2021 elections, the voter turnout in the most active constituencies ranged from 20 to 40 percent. However, in regions with significant dissent, such as the industrial townships near Karaj, close to Tehran, the turnout plummeted to as low as 2 percent.

(From left) President Ebrahim Raisi, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, former president Hassan Rouhani, and former Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani

The former President attributed Iran's current political impasse in part to the absence of the former President and Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who passed away in January 2017. He expressed his concern about the situation, emphasizing that, as a follower of Rafsanjani, he understands the importance of stepping forward and working to solve problems during challenging times like these.

This was possibly another message to Khamenei, who isolated Rafsanjani in the latter years of his life, although the politician had played an instrumental role in convincing senior clerics to select the junior clergyman as Supreme Leader in 1989.

Rafsanjani died under suspicious circumstances and some, including his two daughters Fatemeh and Faezeh strongly believe that he might have been killed. Faezeh Hashemi on Thursday presented some strong evidence in the Iranian press, suggesting that her father might have become the victim of political rivalry by hardliners who thought his presence in the post-Khamenei period could deprive them of political power.

She stated that intelligence officers had met with her a few weeks before her father's death and had discussed the possibility of his assassination in a manner that could be made to appear as if he died of natural causes.

Rouhani said that hardliners carried out five major operations, including the attack on the Saudi Embassy in Tehran in 2016, to tarnish Iran's foreign relations and stop the negotiations over Iran's nuclear program from succeeding.

Meanwhile, he claimed that the United States was certain that his government was popular based on its analysis of a video of Rouhani's visit to Esfahan in February 2015, and wanted to further nuclear negotiations with his administration.

Returning to the topic of the upcoming elections, Rouhani stated: "The ruling minority does not desire competitive elections and a high turnout. They prefer a lackluster election to secure the continuation of their power."

In Khamenei's camp, individuals of doubtful popularity are desperately trying to encourage the people to take part in the elections. Khamenei's representative to hardline daily Kayhan, Hossein Shariatmadari has warned that "Islam will be isolated if people refuse to vote.” His representative in Kermanshah, Friday Prayers Imam Habibollah Ghafouri has said that every vote is like a missile that targets the enemy's heart." These are, however, slogans that most Iranians find too banal and far from the realities of their hard lives.

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