Iranians voted in the presidential as well as the city and village councils elections on May 19, 2017. The two elections were arranged to be on the same day to boost participations and show support for the clerical regime in Tehran. The Guardian Council had handpicked six candidates and rejected the rest of more than 1600 applicants who had registered to be presidential candidates.The candidatesselected by the Council were Mohammad-BagherGhalibaf, Mostafa Hashemitaba, Eshagh Jahangiri, Mostafa Mirsalim, EbrahimRaisi, and Hassan Rouhani.
In three presidential debateswhich began on April 28, the candidates discussed their plans for solving the country’s problems. In the first and second debates, Hassan Rouhani and his deputy Eshagh Jahangiri came under attacks for corruptionsin the executive branch and their failure to solve the country’s problems.[i] The third debate on May 12, was focused on economic issues such as high rate of unemployment, smugglingforeign products imports, banking system insolvencies, bankruptcy of many factories, the country’s dependence on crude oil exports, increase in food prices, and tax collection plan.Other issues discussed were lack of success in promoting self-sufficiency in industrial and agricultural sectors, and rent-seeking in the public sector, a form of corruption common within the regimewhich involves selling public properties below market value to government officials or their relatives and cronies.[ii]Ghalibaf accused Rouhani and Jahangiri of buying public properties for minimal prices. He mentioned that Rouhani’s close relative (his brother Hossein Fereydoon) had engaged in financial corruptions and criticized Rouhani for increase in unemployment rate, high food prices, and his failure to collect taxes. Mirsalim accused Rouhani for increasing export of raw materials and failingto promotemanufacturingindustries.[iii]Raisi accused Rouhani of increasing the payments to retired employees and welfare recipients just before the electionsto promote his campaign.
Few days after the debates,Jahangiri dropped out of the elections in favor of Rouhani and Ghalibaf left in favor of Raisi, the protégé of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Mirsalim did not get enough public supportfrom a conservative camphewas representing. Also, HashemiTabadid not gain support from his reformist camp and later hesaid he voted for Rouhani himself. That meant the election was mainly about choosing the presidentbetween two clerics: the incumbent Rouhani from the so-called reformist wing of the regime and Raisi from the conservative wing.
The Questionable Results
The government announcement of huge turnout on the Election Day was highly questionable. Theresults of presidential electionswere announced by the Interior Ministryon May 21. From the 56 million eligibleIranian voters, 41.22 million or 73% voted in the election. Rouhani received 23.55 million (57.1%) votes, his closest rival, Raisi15.79 million (38.3%) votes, Mirsalim 0.478 (1.2%), and Hashemitaba (0.52%).[iv]Critics called to question the figures announced by the Ministry.They claimed the voters’ population announced was far beyond the capacity of the polling places. The 73% voters’participation in the election was too high to be true. Since the voters had to write the candidates’ nameswhomthey were voting for on the ballots and the limited number of available pollingplaces throughout the country, it was highly unlikely that so many people could have voted in one day. Especially, since the city and village councils elections were simultaneously conducted, and checking and stamping of the voters’ birth certificates, and filling out the ballotsby so many voters required much more time than one day. As compared to the past elections, this timein the Capital Tehran the poorwhomostly reside in south of the city did not crowd the polls at all, while the rich in the north partshad crowded somepolls as were shown on the state television. That meant the conservativeshave lost support among their traditional constituencies who are the poor.
After the elections, there weresome complaints from the conservative campsconcerning miscounting the votes and manipulating the results. The conservatives accused Rouhani of engineering the election in favor of himself. Raisicomplained to the Guardian council for violations (takhalof) in conducting the election.He said in some polling placesthere werenot enough ballots and his name had not been printed correctly on some of the ballots.
Assessment of the Election Outcome
A number of factors affected the outcome of the elections.First, despite failure of Rouhani in economic and other matters, since the media was organizedtopromote him, hegained more votes. Also, the Western powers had planned to promote Rouhani’s re-election.Europeans wanted Rouhani to win the second term because he had signed some lucrative contractswith theirfirms after the nuclear agreement was finalized in January 2016.Europeans have opposed President Donald Trump’s plan to confront the clerical regime. Second, Khamenei’s pushing of Raisi as hisfavoritecandidatebackfired.Raisi’s record of being involved in mass executions of the political prisoners in 1988 and frustration of Iranianswith the conservative clerics led tomore votes for Rouhani who had promised to promote political reforms. Third, some supporters of the former president MahmoudAhmadinejad either did not vote or did not vote for Raisi, despite Raisi’s efforts to absorb some of Ahmadinejad’s supporters into his campaign. Fourth, some secular political groups thought boycotting the elections would lead to worst outcome ifRaisiwas elected. Fifth, some celebrities were shown on state TV and social media, saying they planned to vote for Rouhani.Also, the former president Mohammad Khatami endorsed Rouhani.
Overall, regardless of the highly questionable turnout reported by the Iranian government, it was a surprise election outcome. Despite Rouhani’s disastrous economic policies, his re-election against Khamenei’s favorite candidate Raisishowshow Iranians are frustrated with thetheocratic dictatorship of the Supreme Leader.
Professor Akbar E. Torbat teaches economics at California State University, Los Angeles. He received his PhD in political economy from the University of Texas at Dallas. Email: email@example.com, Webpage: http://www.calstatela.edu/faculty/akbar-torbat