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Iran’s regime faces major crises as it nears the 2021 elections

Iran presidential elections 2021
Iran presidential elections 2021

This article is part of our coverage of the Iranian regime’s presidential elections

Iran, April 12, 2021—As the Iranian regime nears its presidential elections, scheduled for June 18, is confronted with deep internal and international crises and needs to gain legitimacy to maintain power. According to the regime’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei the upcoming elections is “very important both domestically and internationally.” (Khamenei’s remarks on March 21).

The Regime’s unsolvable social crisis in 2021

According to various regime officials, immense economic and social pressures have pushed the society to the point where any spark could lead to a nationwide uprising. On August 20, the state-run daily Asre Iran portrayed the explosive situation of the society as a “Nitrate of dissent” that can explode at any minute.

The ongoing protests in recent years are testament to this explosive state. Iran's presidential election comes as the Iranian people have gone through five nationwide uprisings in the past four years, in which they clearly demanded the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime.

During major anti-regime protests in November 2019, thousands of people across the country chanted “Down with Khamenei,” “Down with (regime’s president Hassan) Rouhani,” and “For 40 years we shed bloodied tears, enough is enough, we'll take a stand.”

People have rejected the regime in its entirety, and the regime has lost all vestige of legitimacy it might have held together before this new round of elections. In February 2020, the Iranian people showed their lack of trust in the entire ruling system with an unprecedented apathy to the parliamentary elections.  Khamenei wanted to brag about his regime’s social base by pointing to widespread participation in the parliamentary elections. 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 the mullahs to remain in power. Even the regime’s own media acknowledged that the 2020 elections had the lowest voter turnout in the regime’s history.

Now again, the regime fears an all-out boycott of the elections as many Iranians openly express they will not participate in the upcoming sham presidential elections.

On March 21, Khamenei clearly expressed his fear of the election boycott by saying, “The enemy is saying that the elections have been ‘engineered,’ ‘Your votes are of no consequence in improving the circumstances,’ and ‘why would you tire yourselves participating in the elections?’”

“But the nation should look at elections as a symbol of national unity, not as a symbol of division, discord, and polarity,” Khamenei added.

Not long after Khamenei’s speech, retirees and pensioners, who gather every week across Iran to protest the regime’s destructive policies, chanted, “We will not vote anymore, we’ve seen no justice.” In such circumstances, the regime is trying in vain to keep an air of legitimacy.

The myth of moderation

No one in Iran holds any hope for change from within the regime. This point was further driven by the slogan “Reformists, hardliners, the game is over,” which has become very popular across Iran in recent years.

Furthermore, the rule of so-called “reformists” presidents has disillusioned the people as to whether the regime’s violent behavior can be moderated. Mohammad Khatami ordered a crackdown on student movements of 1999. Hassan Rouhani has more than 4,000 thousand executions on his agenda and over 1500 killed protesters. And the presidency of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, often referred to as the founder of the so-called reformist movement, was marked with assassinations and terror plots against dissidents inside Iran and abroad. The regime’s history has proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that the it will never follow the path of moderation.

Even Khamenei knows that he can’t play the card of “reformists” anymore and neither has the capacity to do so. During his New Year’s remarks, he emphasized that the upcoming elections doesn’t need to be “multi-factional.” “They should abandon wrong divisions such as left and right and the like.”

Khamenei also expressed his preference for a president that is in line with the regime’s fundamentalist and terrorist goals. “He should have a revolutionary and jihadi performance,” Khamenei said. “One cannot work in a pretentious and ceremonial manner. With all the fundamental issues that exist in the country, there is a need for a jihadi and revolutionary performance,” Khamenei said. This further indicates how the regime is heading for a unipolar rule and bringing a complete end to the “reformists” myth in Iran.

Khamenei previously said, “I have always said that I believe and hope to have a ‘young and Hezbollahi’ government, meaning an effective and high-spirited government that can resolve our problems.”

“When I refer to a young and Hezbollahi government, I’m not saying that, for example, a 32-year-old should become president. We need a young and active government that can resolve the country’s problems. There are those who work well into their old days and never get tired. For example, our dear martyr Qassem Soleimani whom I think about every day…,” he added, referring to the regime’s terror master.

Current candidates

Currently, seven known former officials have announced their candidacy in the upcoming elections. Ali Motahari, former Vice President of the Majlis (Parliament), Mohsen Rahami, former MP, Mohammad Gharazi, former Minister of Petroleum, Mohammad Abbasi, one of the ministers of regime’s former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Saeed Mohammad, head of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Khatam Al-Anbia garrison, Hossein Dehghan, a high ranking IRGC commander and former Defense Minister, Seyed Abbas Nabavi, member of the Office for Strengthening Unity that suppresses students across Iran, and Ezzatollah Zarghami, an IRGC commander and the former head of regime’s broadcasting. This lineup already indicates the importance of this presidential election for the regime and how the IRGC seeks to gain control over the regime’s executive branch.

However, these are not all the regime's candidates yet, and many things may change in the days and weeks leading to the election. But what is certain is that the regime seeks to play with different cards for propaganda purposes to attract attention regarding its sham elections and thus claim a renewed public mandate. Still, the regime’s main concern is election turnout and not the candidates in the first place. In the coming weeks, more updates will be published.