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Iran Election 2021: Regime’s Contraction Policy Makes It More Vulnerable

The Iranian regime will hold its sham presidential election on June 18. While there are seven so-called candidates, the result of the election is predetermined.  

Mohammad Mohaddessin, the Foreign Affairs Committee chairman for the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), called the election a “one-man show” in a press conference last week, which also highlighted the regime’s unique vulnerability and the prospect of a mass boycott of the polls. The NCRI’s main constituent group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) “Resistance Units” are promoting that boycott throughout the country, and in recent weeks people from all walks of life have endorsed it during public protests, chanting slogans like, “We have seen no justice; we will not vote anymore.” 

MEK Resistance Units activities in April 2021 focusing on Iran's presidential election

The emerging boycott movement promises to be a follow-up to one that was successful at the time of the regime’s farce parliamentary elections in February 2020. The MEK has consistently advocated for Iranians to avoid voting in any election, as a protest against the absence of real alternatives to the theocratic establishment. Public support for this position was expressed on a grand scale during nationwide uprisings in January 2018 and November 2019. In both instances, participants were heard to condemn both the “hardline” and the “reformist” factions of the regime. Slogans also underlined that the “game,” is over for the regime and its factions.  

Although 1,500 peaceful protesters were killed during the 2019 uprising alone, countless Iranians returned to the streets for more demonstrations spanning multiple provinces in January 2020. Their persistent rejection of the entire ruling system made it very unlikely that there would be substantial voter turnout in the following month’s election.  

Despite the bogus claims by the regime’s apologists, the latest sham parliamentary election and the forthcoming presidential election both demonstrated that there is no “lesser of two evils,” in the regime.  

When the presidential ballot was announced this past week, it became clear that the regime has determined to consolidate power. In addition to barring members of the rival faction from seeking office, the regime’s Guardian Council disqualified all high-profile figures who might have mounted a challenge to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s preferred candidate, the current Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi. 

Who is Ebrahim Raisi, a candidate in Iran presidential election and an executioner in 1988 massacre

Among those disqualified was the former Speaker of the regime Parliament, Ali Larijani. But upon hearing that he had not passed the Guardian Council’s constitutionally-established vetting process, Larijani announced that he was “satisfied” with the decision and that he considered it important for all Iranians to participate in the election as a way of promoting the continuation of an “Islamic Iran.” This embrace of his own disqualification underlines that the outcomes of the regime’s elections are dictated from the top down and that there is overwhelming alignment in support of those outcomes since both of the regime’s factions have the goal of preserving the ruling theocracy.  

Mr. Mohaddessin clarified this issue in Wednesday’s press conference, describing the regime’s sham election as “a travesty, a selection process by a supreme leader who is himself unelected.” The NCRI’s Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman went on to explain that Khamenei controls the Guardian Council’s decisions, being empowered to appoint six of its 12 members as well as the head of the judiciary, who in turn appoints the other six. “So the election outcome is not decided by the people. It’s decided by the regime’s internal balance of power,” he added. 

There are no meaningful political differences between the regime’s factions, each represents a different set of corrupt interests of its members. 

Mr. Mohaddessin underlined why recent developments make this year’s sham election different from all those that have been held in Iran over the past four decades. Chief among these is the fact that the sham presidential election is set to take place at a time when the regime is still struggling to recover from the effects of the major uprisings in recent years. Not only did these underscore the public’s distaste for a heavily controlled political process, but they also popularized a message of support for regime change while exposing the current regime’s vulnerability to an organized opposition group. 

While the first of the uprisings was still in full swing, Khamenei delivered a speech attributing it to the organizing efforts of the MEK, thereby undermining decades of propaganda that portrayed the group as weak, ineffectual. Since then, regime authorities have been continually warning about the threat of further MEK-led unrest, which in turn has led to an increased focus on maintaining power through the sort of brutal repression of dissent that Ebrahim Raisi represents. 

As well as overseeing the judiciary’s response to the November 2019 uprising, which featured countless instances of torture in addition to the 1,500 killings, Raisi boasts a long resume as the “hanging judge.” He is especially well known for being one of the main perpetrators of a massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in 1988. In promoting Raisi’s ascendance to the presidency, Khamenei is offering another in a long list of endorsements for this massacre’s legacy. All its major participants have been systematically rewarded with positions of ever-greater influence, and no one has ever been held accountable either at home or abroad for the killings. 

Mr. Mohaddessin at last week’s press conference concluded with an account of the NCRI’s recommendations for Western policymakers in the face of Raisi’s imminent installation as the regime’s new president. He urged them to pay due attention to the lack of choice in the election process, as well as the Iranian people’s outrage and their plans for an electoral boycott. Democratic nations should “echo the call by the Iranian people and condemn this sham election as illegitimate,” Mr. Mohaddessin said. 

His further recommendations highlight the ways in which Western policymakers can move beyond condemnation of the current system and help the Iranian people and the Iranian Resistance to establish a new one. After criticizing current Western policies for a tendency toward “appeasement,” Mr. Mohaddessin said that new policies should “end impunity for the mass murderers who are ruling the country” and should be directed toward bringing officials like Raisi to justice for four decades of unresolved crimes, including crimes against humanity. 

With the selection of Raisi, a mass murderer, as the regime’s president, and the widespread electoral boycott by the Iranian people, it will be the responsibility of Western powers to “stand on the right side of history and with the Iranian people in their quest for freedom.