Presidential candidate Masoud Pezeshkian during a campaign event in Tehran (June 2024)

Can ‘Reformist’ Candidate Bring Iranian Voters Back to the Polls?

Sunday, 06/16/2024

A key question is whether 'moderate' candidate Masoud Pezeshkian can motivate reform-minded and other voters, who have abstained from voting in the last three elections in Iran, to return to the polls.

The six handpicked candidates in the upcoming presidential election, including Pezeshkian, have yet to offer any new or interesting solutions to potential voters about reversing their declining economic well-being.

Pezeshkian's candidacy raises questions about whether he represents the Iranians who have become disillusioned with the government after several rounds of protests and violent confrontations in recent years. There is uncertainty about whether voters will trust him after so many years of the government barring all hundreds of candidates from elections. His sheer presence might not be enough to bring disillusioned voters back to the polls.

The situation has plunged Iranian society into deep despair about their demands not being met by the government and concerns about the future of the country. Desperation and protest have been the main characteristics of Iranian society since 2017 when the first in a series of large protests began. These sentiments have led to the lowest voter turnouts in the history of Iranian elections over the past 45 years.

Two Iranian sociologists Mohammad Reza Javadi Yeganeh and Taghi Azad Armaki, both from the University of Tehran, have spoken to Rouydad24 news website in Tehran to address these questions.

Presidential candidate Masoud Pezeshkian during a campaign event in Tehran (June 2024)

Yeganeh acknowledged voters' frustration with the electoral process but emphasized that voting and pursuing gradual reforms remain the only solutions. Meanwhile, Armaki argued that intellectuals must convince the public that gradual reforms can be effective; otherwise, Iranian society risks a dangerous collapse.

Yeganeh said that as a result of the government's approach to elections Iranians have lost hope in political change through voting. He reiterated that forecasts indicate a low turnout in the upcoming election. The expectations are about a maximum turnout figure of around 50 percent of eligible voters, he said, adding that reformists have lost a major part of their vote basket anyway. The voters know that the candidates are not going to be able to meet their promises about improving the people's situation.

He also said that it is difficult to rebuild the ties between the people and the government. Yeganeh added that if the reformist figures who want to vote do not say that loud and clear during the next week, the turnout will hardly reach 50 percent.

Meanwhile, Dr. Armaki said that a large part of the society no longer listens to the government due to increasing dissatisfaction. They ask themselves why they should interact with a government that does not pay any attention to their problems. Even if they decide to vote at the last moment, that will not change anything.

Armaki added that Iranians have been demanding change during at least the past 15 years. If Pezeshkian can present himself as the advocate of change while other candidates advocate the status quo, then he might have a chance.

This comes while many voters who are vocal on social media do not believe in Pezeshkian's abilities as a change maker. Some social media activists criticize him for not responding to some questions and saying that experts will tackle them. Arash Sepehri wrote: "No one expects him to be an expert on everything. He is surrounded by experts with often conflicting ideas about the economy."

Another social media activist and journalist, Mohammad Parsi criticized all of the candidates about their views on a variety of matters, "From distribution of meat in the market to eliminating the filtering of social media and sorting out the problem of housing. You are presenting the bare essential needs as dreams and promises." He charged that "after 45 years, the candidates have given up the dream of turning Iran into an Islamic Japan, instead becoming the North Korea of the Middle east!"

Yet other social media users, mocked Pezeshkian for responding to a question about his economic plans with a long verse in Arabic that would make sense to very few Iranians as Persian speakers. In the video that went viral, even the interviewer, a seasoned businessman and former Trade Minister Yahya Al-e Es'haq, looks bewildered by the answer, let alone the man in the street who probably does not know there is going to be an election soon.

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