Iran’s hardliners appear to be sowing division among Reformists following a declaration by their main organization that they would not participate in elections in Tehran.
In fact, Iran’s election watchdog, the Guardian Council, packed with hardliners, has banned almost all Reformists from running in the March 1 parliamentary vote, leaving little choice to a coalition of parties known as the Reformists.
The February 10 statement by the Reform Front is effectively a call for boycotting the elections, although it states that it is only in Tehran that "Reformists find it impossible to take part and present a list of candidates" as none of their nominees had their qualifications endorsed by the Guardian Council. This way of putting their protest forward, acquits the Reform Camp of possible accusations of defying the regime.
Although the Reform Front’s statement stops short of outright boycotting the March 1 parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections, a group of 110 self-proclaimed reform-minded intellectuals, civil, political, and media activists issued a call for reformists to participate. They argue that participation could provide a small avenue for reform-minded individuals to voice their concerns in parliament.
Citing extensive monitoring and evaluation of political developments, the Reformist Front emphasized the need for meaningful, competitive, and fair elections. They condemned arbitrary vetting and disqualification of candidates, which they believe undermines the people's choices and contributes to political, economic, social, and cultural crises. "We cannot take part in a meaningless, non-competitive, unfair election which is not going to have an impact on the way the country is governed."
The Front said that it has already "warned the government about the consequences of limiting the people's choices through arbitrary vetting and disqualification of the candidates," adding that "The discretionary supervision by the Guardian Council that limits the people's choices is one of the main reasons for the inefficiency of the Iranian government and has led to many political, economic, social, and cultural crises."
The Reforms Front further warned that "The officials and institutions that have made the polling box useless in Iran shall be responsible for the low turnout in the elections and its consequences" for the regime’s legitimacy. The Reformist Front further pointed out that "The only way to solve the country's problems is establishing a powerful and independent parliament and government by holding free and fair and competitive elections."
Announcing that this was a collective decision made by all the reformist parties in Iran, the front also expressed concern that measures including biased vetting that limits the voters' choices have been constantly on the rise during the past years.
Meanwhile, a statement issued on February 12 by a group of around 100 activists, including former Reformist lawmakers and media owners, urged people to participate in the elections and support a coalition of moderate and reform-minded candidates endorsed by the Guardian Council. Despite acknowledging the lack of fairness in Iran's elections, they advocated for participation to counter political purification efforts by the ruling conservatives.
The move dividing the Reformists could have well been encouraged by hardliners, as their media outlets jumped on the news to highlight that not all reformists have boycotted the elections.
Regardless of their all-out support for the government the activists in their statement acknowledged that "Like all of the elections in Iran's contemporary history, the upcoming plebiscite is totally far from free and fair and its organizers have been working hard to implement the idea of political purification" which means monopolizing political power in Iran in the interest of the ruling conservatives.
Social media users have accused the group of opportunism and looking for a weak and useless minority in the parliament. One social media user said: "They would take part in any Saddam Hussain-style election Khamenei may hold."