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Iran: strategic elections or strategic impasse?

Iranian regime officials are afraid of widespread boycott of presidential elections
Iranian regime officials are afraid of widespread boycott of presidential elections

Analysis by PMOI/MEK

Iran, February 19, 2021—As the Iranian regime approaches the 2021 Presidential Election, Tehran’s strategic impasse becomes apparent more than ever. For 42 years, Iranian authorities deceived the society by putting up a show of “reformists versus hardliners.” However, in recent years, Iranian citizens have clearly announced that they see no distinction between these supposedly rivaling factions.

“Moderates and principalists are all cuts of the same cloth,” citizens say in their private gatherings. “Reformists, hardliners, the game is over,” people frequently chant in anti-establishment rallies and protests.

“There are some groups and miniature parties that are made up of just two or three members. And there are only one or two parties with several hundred members that cannot hold a gathering with 50,000 people. They just become active during election campaigns and get help from influencers and celebrities to take a share in political power,” wrote Mostaghel daily on February 16.

In contrast, when it comes to anti-regime gatherings and rallies, there’s no shortage of volunteers, despite the heavy atmosphere of repression. According to Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, more than 200,000 citizens took to the streets during nationwide protests in mid-November 2019. At the time, the government violently responded to the people’s grievances, killing at least 1,500 protesters and detaining another 12,000.

“There are 15 appointees on behalf of a nine-member committee—its members were also appointed—and all of them are affiliated with a political tribe and have a friendship circle in Tehran. They are supposed to gather once again to shape something called the [2021] Presidential election,” Mostaghel added.

“Regional lords too ridiculous, poor, weak, fragile, and more undemocratic than anywhere, have founded an institution under the banner of Consensus-Building Institution of Reformists’ Campaign. They use the tactic of terrifying citizens from the ‘worst’ to prod them to vote for their desirable ‘bad.’ They intend to appoint someone falsely and impose him to society under the pretense of the ‘country’s savior,’” the state-run daily continued. 

During the 2017 Presidential campaign, regime president Hassan Rouhani and his first vice president Eshaq Jahangiri harshly slammed their rivals Ebrahim Raisi and Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf for their merciless crimes and corruption cases.

“On the election day, our people will announce that they no longer want those who only knew prison and execution in the past 38 years,” Rouhani said in Hamadan city on May 8, 2017, addressing Raisi, who is now the judiciary chief, for his leading role in the massacre of political prisoners in 1988.

“Mr. Ghalibaf, you have an expertise in beating protesters! Whenever we had gathered in the Supreme National Security Council, you were saying that let me beat these protesters,” Rouhani said during the June 17, 2017, presidential debate, addressing the current Parliament (Majlis) Speaker’s crimes against student protests in 1999 as the chief of the State Security Forces (SSF).

“Mr. Ghalibaf, have you ever known what is happening in Ghavamian credit bank? Have you ever been aware of the status of credit institutions? All these institutions were established when you were Tehran Mayor,” Jahangiri said during the same debate, mentioning Ghalibaf’s massive corruption cases while he was Tehran’s mayor. Remarkably, those revelations pushed Ghalibaf to resign from his post.

This is while during the Rouhani administration, Iran faced unprecedented economic dilemmas, and the government resorted to lethal force to silence people’s legal demands. Iran’s national currency, the rial, experienced an unprecedented devaluation. Millions of people lost their capital, taking refugees to slums that government-linked experts describe as dark zones due to lack of public services and essential needs.

Furthermore, the government’s horrible performance against the coronavirus pandemic displayed Reformists’ imprudence for leading the country. The people publicly say that we are exhausted of Rouhani’s hollow statements. Rouhani even refused to support low-income families during the Covid-19 outbreak, coercing them to opt between dying of the illness or starvation.

“Leftists cannot preserve the state, and rightists cannot preserve the nation,” said Mohammad Gharazi, former Presidential Candidate and one of the founders of the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Gharazi’s sentence completely describes the regime’s strategic impasse and the establishment’s socioeconomic failure to rule.

In February 2020, the Iranian people showed their despair over the entire ruling system with an unprecedented apathy to the Parliamentary elections. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei wanted to brag about his regime’s social base through the polls. Instead, the international community realized that the Iranian regime has no acceptance inside Iran, and a cruel crackdown on citizens is the only thing that has allowed it to remain in power.

“Foes tried to disperse voters, and just one day before elections, they said that the coronavirus has emerged in Iran,” said Khamenei following public apathy during February 2020 elections, blaming ‘foreigners’ for the government’s failures.

Fearing another boycott in the 2021 Presidential elections, the Supreme Leader delivered a speech on February 17, calling on citizens to vote. “The more public participation in the elections, the more effects and benefits it will have for the state. Whenever we approach elections, the enemy starts [propaganda], saying, ‘there is no freedom, and the elections are engineered, to disperse the people from taking place in the elections,” said Khamenei.

“Of course, it would be a great victory if the people attended polls and precisely elect some efficient, faithful, and motivated individual. People’s participation and the election of a favorable individual are the remedies for the state’s ongoing pains,” Khamenei added, paving the path for appointing his desired candidate.

However, neither Khamenei nor his rivals can conceal the regime’s fragile conditions. The Supreme Leader mentioned the ‘state’s ongoing pains’ as the tip of the iceberg. He is aware of society’s hatred toward the government and its terrible performance during the past 42 years.

Former Deputy Interior Minister and a prominent member of the so-called reformist camp Mostafa Tajzadeh described the regime’s circumstances as a strategic impasse. He believes this impasse drives the government to another nationwide protest like gas protests in November 2019. Tajzadeh suggests a strategic decision to rescue the ruling system from “ongoing pains.” Reformists generally see the sole solution to their predicaments to be negotiations with the United States.

“Tajzadeh believes that we have to make a strategic decision as soon as possible before the repetition of an incident like the November 2019 and gas price hikes,” Etemad daily wrote on February 16.

In reality, reformists pressure Khamenei to acquiesce to international pressure and launch another round of negotiations with the U.S. Instead, Khamenei realizes that new talks will severely jeopardize his supremacy, and he would not be able to control the volatile society and silence the demands of the people anymore.

In a nutshell, Khamenei prefers to endure more pressure and impose more restrictions and oppressive measures against citizens. However, this policy would have its own inevitable consequences, which would put more protests on the horizon.