With Iran’s regime sham presidential election a little over a month away, a movement to boycott the polls is gaining considerable momentum throughout the country. The dim prospects for voter turnout have even been acknowledged by Iranian state media outlets in recent weeks, with the daily newspaper Sharq noting that even the “most optimistic estimates” suggest a rate of participation between 40 and 60 percent. Mostaghel, another daily, reported on the same day that “without a doubt, 37 percent of eligible voters will not participate.”
If these assessments hold true, the Iranian regime could be on track for a new record low participation rate, exceeding the previous record set by parliamentary elections in February of last year. But even more importantly, there are no real elections in Iran and the candidates are all insiders whose careers, from beginning to end, are dependent upon fealty to the theocratic system and the supreme leader.
This point is the driving force behind the boycott movement, which is being led now as in years past by the MEK and the “Resistance units” that operate across Iranian society. Those groups of protesters staged demonstrations in at least 250 localities in April alone, as well as posting messages in public spaces urging citizens to boycott elections as a means of “voting for regime change.” These efforts have shown no signs of slowing down as the country enters the final stretch before the sham election.
Furthermore, disaffection with Rouhani’s eight-year administration has seemingly fueled the popular embrace of the protest movement – something that has been visible in numerous protests over the past several weeks. Pensioners, whose income is no longer sufficient to pay for life’s most basic necessities, have staged more than a dozen of their own protests spanning an ever greater number of cities, and some of the most recent demonstrations have been defined by chants of, “We will not vote anymore; we have heard too many lies.”
The same sentiment was expressed in late April by private investors whose savings were largely wiped out last year by a government scheme to inflate the value of the stock market, resulting in large returns for regime officials and other well-connected individuals who cashed out before the inevitable collapse. The protests in question took explicit aim at Rouhani and various senior members of the Iranian regime over their role in the scheme while also condemning the supreme leader’s supposed favorite presidential contender, Ebrahim Raisi, who presently serves as head of the judiciary.
In his position, Raisi has also overseen the escalating crackdown on dissent since the start of nationwide uprisings at the end of 2017. The clear legal imbalance between ordinary citizens and government officials led the swindled investors to chant, “We’ve seen no justice; we won’t vote anymore.”
As this support for an electoral boycott grows, so does the regime’s anxiety about its potential to lead the Iranian activist community toward further unrest like that which defined the more than two years leading up to the parliamentary elections and the coronavirus pandemic. On April 25, the state-run newspaper Hamdeli, cautioned all presidential candidates over this situation. “Before we worry about the political consequences of low voter turnout, we should worry about the social consequences,” the article said before highlighting the legacy of the November 2019 uprising and the resulting crackdown.
Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, similarly highlighted that legacy in a speech marking the start of the Iranian calendar year in March. Noting that there had just been major clashes between protesters and security forces, particularly in Sistan and Baluchistan Province, the Resistance leader predicted that “the fire of the uprisings” was emerging again from “the ashes of the coronavirus.”
In cities throughout Iran, Mrs. Rajavi’s image has accompanied the messages urging an electoral boycott. In this way, Resistance units have reminded supporters of the movement that once they “vote for regime change,” there will be a transitional government ready to take the place of a government whose twin factions currently offer no possibility of change in the policies that have harmed the Iranian public in various ways for more than 40 years.