The ballot for Iran’s regime June 18 sham presidential election is gradually taking shape, and it is already clear that the list of candidates represents a long history of devoted and violent service to the theocratic dictatorship. Among those who have registered, there are a number of career officers in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as well as two former heads of one of the Iranian regime’s main state propaganda outlets, and figures with ties to some of the most high-profile terrorist incidents and human rights abuses in the history of the Iranian regime.
It has long been expected that this election cycle would contribute to the consolidation of power for a “hardline” faction of lawmakers. This prediction was upheld before candidate registration even began last week, as the Supreme Leader and the Guardian Council had both been proactive in discouraging or outright barring prospective “reformist” candidates from standing for election. However, the effectiveness of this project reveals the extent to which the term “reformist” is a misnomer. The very purpose of the Guardian Council is to verify that all candidates for high office are absolutely loyal to the theocratic system and the clerical leader, so it is fundamentally impossible for any established “reformist” to actually push for change.
The past eight years have further illustrated this fact, as the tenure of the supposed reformist President Hassan Rouhani delivered on none of its campaign promises and actually resulted in domestic conditions that were worse in many respects. This was never more apparent than in November 2019, when the Iranian people staged an anti-government uprising that spanned nearly 200 localities and the authorities responded by opening fire on crowds, killing 1,500 people. Neither Rouhani nor any other “reformist” took action to stop this massacre. None even criticized it publicly or acknowledged a subsequent report from Amnesty International, which showed that thousands of activists were tortured in the months following the uprising.
Now, the individual who oversaw that torture as head of the Iranian judiciary is poised to rise to the top of the presidential ballot next month. Ebrahim Raisi is reportedly the favorite candidate of the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Frustrated by the crimes and lies of both factions of so-called “reformists” and “hardliners,” Iranian people have concluded that elections in Iran are just to buy legitimacy for a criminal regime, and it will change nothing in their lives. That is why they have joined the call by the main opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), to boycott the election and deny Tehran of its claims of political legitimacy. The mission of that boycott effort is clearly connected to the message that took root among a broad cross-section of Iranian society beginning in January 2018, with a nationwide uprising that would ultimately be revisited on an even larger scale in November 2019.
Participants in both protest movements were heard to chant slogans such as “death to the dictator” and “reformists, hardliners: the game is over.” In this way, they explicitly condemned all viable candidates for high office under the current system and thus made it clear that the only pathway to reform in modern Iran is through regime change.
This message goes a long way toward explaining the regime’s hysterical response. But that response, in turn, reinforces the message, as evidenced by recent protests – part of a pattern that the Iranian Resistance leader Mrs. Maryam Rajavi has highlighted as evidence that the “fire of the uprisings is rising from the ashes” after a period of relative inactivity at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
Her first such comments were made in response to protests that encompassed much of Sistan and Baluchistan Province in February after government authorities clashed with fuel porters in the border region. That unrest roughly coincided with the start of far-reaching protests by Iranian pensioners whose income remains stagnant as the cost of living exceeds their means by an ever wider margin. These protests continue to date and have been joined by other demonstrations with a similar focus but featuring younger crowds and an emphasis on different specific policies and conditions.
One thing that most of the economic protests have in common is that they have lately endorsed a pending boycott of the presidential election. Pensioners and young investors alike have been heard to chant, “We have seen no justice; we will not vote anymore.” In this way, they have begun to hint at the very same sentiment that defined the 2018 and 2019 uprisings: namely that the solution to Iran’s dire social problems cannot come from inside the existing regime but must be the result of comprehensive change driven by the civilian population.
This message was made significantly more explicit in recent days as a video began circulating on Iranian social media, which featured another specific group’s endorsement of the electoral boycott. In it, a number of mothers who have lost children to the regime’s political violence during the November 2019 uprising. “We all want to overthrow the mullahs’ regime,” they said in unison at the outset of the recording. “Our vote is regime change.”
That same phrase has appeared in graffiti and on posters all across Iran in recent weeks – reportedly the work of MEK’s “Resistance Units”.
In the aforementioned video, one grieving mother suggested that anyone who votes next month will be supporting the system that killed her son and that she will “hold them accountable in this world and in the afterlife.” Another addressed viewers directly and said, “If you love us, if you care for the blood of our loved ones, do not vote.”
While each of the video’s participants appealed primarily to their fellow Iranians, some of their statements maybe even more relevant to Western policymakers, many of whom have clung for at least the past eight years to a narrative that says reformist officials in the Iranian regime are materially better than their hardline counterparts.
One woman rejected this notion explicitly when she said, “If our vote was supposed to fix anything, it would have happened in the last 40 years, but it did not.” She went on to characterize the November 2019 crackdown as a direct result of that 40-year history and thus as a likely preview of things to come if the Iranian regime continues to claim legitimacy in the wake of sham elections like the one that will take place on June 18.
The Iranian people have already cast their vote in November 2019 uprising by chanting “death to dictator,” and they will again deny any legitimacy for the regime through an electoral boycott. But the Western powers and the United Nations should reiterate the people’s message by further isolating the anti-democracy regime on the international stage and prevent any political or economic assistance to this regime.