Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei (center) and senior Iranian officials during a meeting in Tehran on February 8, 2024

Facing Apathy, Khamenei Pitches For Voter Turnout In Elections

Sunday, 02/18/2024

Iran's ruler, Ali Khamenei, made a fervent appeal for voter turnout in the March 1 elections, amidst indications of a potential low participation rate, signaling a declining legitimacy.

In a meeting with supporters from East Azarbaijan Province Sunday morning, Khamenei called for self-reflection and “enhancing existing strengths while addressing weaknesses.” He claimed that the United States and other “enemies” want a low turnout in the elections and urged people to vote for those candidates who have been allowed to run by his obedient watchdog institutions.

While the regime’s hardcore has barred hundreds of loyal insiders from running in the elections for parliament and the Assembly of Experts, it has been trying hard to galvanize enthusiasm among a disgruntled and apathetic public. Many clerics have been recruited to urge voters to go to polling stations, praising the achievements of the regime. Even hijab rules have been relaxed for showing up at polling stations with the hope that perhaps more women will turn out.

One more sign of the regime’s need to project popularity is repeated claims that millions of people took part in the 45th anniversary of the Islamic Republic earlier in the month. Photographic evidence posted on social media showed a crowd of a few tens of thousands in Tehran. Khamenei, however, thanked the citizens on Sunday for their overwhelming presence.

Iran’s ruler Ali Khamenei during a meeting in Tehran, January 2024

Also, government media in headlines announcing Khamenei’s meeting said “thousands of people” attended his speech. But the meeting was held in his residence and office, where a large reception hall can accommodate a few hundred people, not thousands.

The aging autocrat now in his 35th year of rule, could not resist on Sunday to speak again and again about “enemies”. He told his followers that Iran should have a “smart and non-reactive approach to the enemy.” Emphasizing the importance of the elections as a solution to problems, he called on everyone to enthusiastically participate. However, many Iranians say that repeated parliamentary and presidential elections have done little to change policies that have crippled the economy and further restricted freedoms.

With mass disqualification of candidates, few see the elections as offering a real political choice, at least within the confines of Islamic Republic’s already restricted landscape. But Khamenei claimed on Sunday that all previous elections were genuine.

“Of course, throughout these decades, electoral violations in the sense claimed by the enemy have never been observed, rendering their claims baseless. In cases where some allegations were raised, upon investigation, they were identified. However, these violations never altered the overall results, and elections in the country have always been conducted correctly, soundly, and maturely,” Khamenei insisted.

In 2009, a short time after polls closed in presidential elections authorities announced that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected. Millions of people saw this as a fraudulent result and poured into the streets demanding a real recount. After months of protests, the other two candidates were put under house arrest without tirl. They are in their 80s now and still confined in their homes.

In 2021, all major presidential candidates were disqualified and barred from challenging Ebrahim Raisi, Khamenei’s favorite man for the position, who won the vote and formed a hardliner front with those in parliament who had been also elected in non-competitive circumstances.

Khamenei also admitted that Iran’s isolated and government-controlled economy is not performing well, but at the same time he called for preventing Western influences.

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