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Iranian Regime Officials Deeply Divided Over Election Outcome

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Four-minute read

In the labyrinth of Iran’s religious dictatorship, where major decisions rest in the hands of an unelected figure, elections often seem like a theatrical performance devoid of substance. However, the sham parliamentary elections held on March 1 in Iran held profound significance for the regime, the Iranian people, and the global community at large.

Given that this round of elections was overshadowed by a series of uprisings since 2017 and widespread calls for regime change, both the regime and the Iranian people seemed at loggerheads on the outcome.

In his first public appearance after the electoral scheme, Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Iranian regime, described the elections as “epic,” which showed his inability to refrain from claiming “victory.”

Khamenei said, “For about a year, the enemies have tried to dissuade the people from participating in the elections and dampen their enthusiasm. However, the people, with their grand and epic movement on March 1st, confronted the efforts of the enemies. Therefore, this movement was a form of jihad.”

On March 2, the regime’s president Ebrahim Raisi also expressed gratitude to the election organizers for the “health” and “security” of the elections in a message disseminated through state-controlled media. He hailed it as a “glorious competition.”

Undoubtedly, while Khamenei and his inner circle strive to imply a return to pre-2022 conditions in Iran, the Iranian people have effectively exposed the contrary through their resounding boycott. This has become evident through the expressions of those well aware of societal realities.

Victory of defeat?

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former President of the regime who himself cast a vote in the sham elections on March 1, said: “This is a defeat, and there is no victory.”

In a video, Ahmadinejad remarked, “They sidelined the people and now come up with excuses. Sometimes one genuinely feels sorry; first for themselves, then for the country. What’s even more absurd is when they call it a ‘great victory!’”

On March 7, Hashmatollah Falahatpisheh, the former head of the Majlis Security Commission told the state-run newspaper Etemad, “I firmly believe that the March 1 elections were by no means a victory for the principlists; rather, they represented a defeat for those who sought to purge the governance. The people believe that their votes no longer affect their destiny. Pressure groups this time spared not even their own mentors and elders. This situation domestically has hindered the formation of national cohesion, and externally, it has formed a consensus against Iran, damaging the country’s national interests. Today, despite all the propaganda, many Iranians were not willing to choose the path to the ballot boxes.”

A crisis of legitimacy

On March 6, in an article titled “The Crisis of Political Representation: A Threat to National Security,” the state-run newspaper Ham-Mihan wrote, “In the electoral district of Shiraz, a city with a population of several million, the top-ranking candidate entered the parliament with only 78,000 votes, representing only 5% of the city’s population. Similarly, in the electoral district of Isfahan, the top candidate, at best, represents 10% of the constituents, while in Tehran, the top candidate secured representation from only 7% of eligible voters. These figures are significantly lower for other candidates who received votes in major cities. This indicates a crisis of representation. Additionally, in these elections, blank votes accounted for a considerable portion of the overall ballots cast.”

The state-run Khabar Online website wrote on March 6, “Whether you like it or not, you cannot ignore the blank votes. It means that blank votes now count as a political force. Denying the blank votes cannot make them go away.”

The Etemad newspaper also warned against increasing support among the people for regime change. On March 7, it wrote, “Since the radical principlists took charge, they have only contributed to radicalizing a significant portion of civil and moderate society, empowering regime change approaches. In essence, they have incited a force that has been waiting for the right moment. In this situation, dangerous fault lines emerge within society.”

Rigging exposed

Sommayeh Mahmoudi, a member of the regime’s parliament, also confessed to election fraud and vote-rigging. She said, “There were many individuals whose national ID numbers were used for voting, and after visiting the ballot box, they realized that their votes had already been cast by others.”

She further stated, “Vote-buying has been carried out from 100,000 to 1.5 million tomans, and gift packages were given to voters.”

In a critical article, Mohammad Mohajeri, a member of the editorial board of the Khabar Online website, blasted Ahmad Vahidi, the Minister of Interior in Raisi’s government, writing, “Minister! Your performance in the last 12 months has led to the dishonor of presiding over the least participated parliamentary elections.”

He added, “Even the elected representatives, at least in Tehran, represent a maximum of 5% of the eligible voters. Now that the rumor of voting with others’ national ID cards has come to light, why don’t you design a system so that anyone can find out whether a vote has been cast in their name or not?”

Abbas Abdi, a former interrogator who turned a journalist also wrote, “I absolutely do not accept that the election turnout was 40 percent. Before the elections, it was announced that the turnout would be around 30 percent. 40 percent is a joke. About six to seven percent is reduced due to these blank votes, which were unprecedented.”

Referring to the revelation of vote-rigging, Abdi sarcastically said, “A number of these counted votes are in question. Like those mentioned in the national ID cards issue. Right now, I myself don’t even know whether I voted or not.”

Consequences of a defeat

Ahmad Zeydabadi, a state-affiliated analyst, wrote on his Telegram channel, “Perhaps a day will come when individuals with 20 votes from family members become representatives of Tehran.”

On February 23, in an interview with the Didar News, Zeydabadi had warned, “If this situation does not change, it is fundamentally a very, very dangerous slope towards collapse that I think everyone who is ultimately working in various domains has been sounding alarm bells for a long time.”

Ham-Mihan also warned, “While in the past, members of parliament could represent 10% to 20% of the population, now they will only represent 5% to 10%. Conditions where there is a crisis of political representation alongside inefficiency will be prone to more significant political, social, and security crises, posing a threat to national security.”

The fact that the Iranian state officials cannot reach an agreement on their messaging regarding the sham elections is not surprising. This feud, which began immediately after the death of the former Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989, has now reached much more serious ends.

In essence, the conflict revolves not around the essence of governance but rather about its sustenance. Given the perpetual discord among ruling factions, it falls upon the people and the Resistance within Iran to furnish a resolution.