Fundamentalists Have the Upper Hand in the Upcoming Parliamentary Elections in Iran


Iran’s Parliamentary elections is scheduled to be held on March 1, 2024. The elections will be for the twelfth term of the 290 seats of the Islamic Consultative Majles (House of Representatives). The elections for the Assembly of Leadership Experts, which is an entirely clerical body, will also be held at the same time.

Following the election of President Hassan Rouhani in 2013, the deterioration of the economic situation, and the emergence of protests in Iran in 2017, many people refrained from participating in the elections due to the disappointment of reforms and the lack of improvement in economic conditions. After the death of Mahsa Amini in the autumn of 2022, opposition to the regime intensified due to nationwide protests over women’s rights to oppose the enforcement of hijab law. The crackdown of the protestors resulted in hundreds of deaths and many injuries, and several thousands were arrested by security forces.

Despite the US sanctions, Iran’s economy has recently thrived thanks to increasing oil revenues, but skyrocketing inflation has deteriorated the standard of living and increased dissatisfaction among the Iranians. Yet, due to the tragic war of genocide in the Gaza Strip by Israel, the Islamic fundamentalists have gained support in Iran, and that may contribute to their victory in the elections. The genocide in Gaza and the Biden administration’s complicity in the war by providing money and weapons to Israel and even directly participating in the war by bombing the “Islamic Resistance Front” forces in the area have strengthened the fundamentalists’ position who oppose relations with the West.

Moreover, Islamic fundamentalists, via their influence in the Guardian Council, have engineered the election by pre-selecting their favorite candidates and have rejected many candidates from other parties. The Guardian Council has declared most reformist and moderate applicants ineligible to participate in the election. That has improved the chance of the candidates from the fundamentalist camp winning in the election. In Iran, theocracy has priority over democracy. Instead of people choosing qualified candidates, the 12-member clerics and Islamist jurists in the Guardian Council choose them. This is a gross violation of democratic principles. As a result, the outcome is a number of candidates that people do not have confidence in and are not qualified to represent the people.

This is the first time that candidates had to pre-register because of a new law that was passed in 2023. The Majles approved the law for the parliamentary elections, which specified a week duration for the applicants to pre-register. Some 48,847 applicants pre-registered to participate as candidates in the elections. The time for checking the candidates’ qualifications was November 4-18, 2023. On November 19, the examination of the applicants’ qualifications was completed. Then, 21,000 of them were approved by the Interior Ministry. Finally, on February 8, 2024, the Guardian Council announced that 14,912 applicants had been selected for the parliamentary elections; about 1,700 were female. The chosen candidates were primarily from factions that have fundamentalist tendencies. Twenty-six members of the current Parliament were disqualified. Among them were representatives who had opposed “hejab and chastity” law and/or “filtering of the Internet.” The disqualification of the critics of the government received widespread reactions in the Iranian media. Many called this issue a continuation of the fundamentalists’ domination over all organs of the government.

The Islamic Republic of Iran, under the leadership of Ali Khamenei, is trying to create legitimacy for itself by maneuvering this show election. The Supreme Leader, Khamenei, has declared that elections are a duty, and anyone who opposes the elections has opposed the Islamic Republic and Islam. Khamenei wants the electors to participate in the elections as a duty and fulfill the regime’s show election without having an intended candidate to vote for. Candidacies are given to individuals who believe in the absolute rule of the Guardianship of Islamic Jurist (Valiant-e Faghih), and their loyalty to the regime has been proven, and/or those who do not cause a serious threat to the clerical rule. Nonetheless, Khamenei is under pressure to free some of his opponents to encourage participation in the elections.

The government claims that many applicants have been approved to participate. However, the qualifications of the candidates are the most important matter, not the quantity of participants. Many highly qualified applicants who do not agree with the system do not participate, or if they participate, they will be rejected outright under such restrictive theocratic procedure. The applicants who oppose the clerical rule are disqualified to run.

At present, there is no popular political party in Iran that is supported by the secular political factions. Most of the parties have been organized by the Islamists in the regime or the former officials of the regime. Islamic Coalition Party has invited people to vote. This fundamentalist party favors economic liberalism. It represents the “religious bazaars” stratum within the political factions in Iran. Among the main political factions, the fundamentalists (Principalists) pursue their electoral activity in the form of two main alliance lists: the Coalition Council and the Unity Council. The Coalition Council (Shoraye Eatelaf) is a fundamentalist alliance that was formed by the Islamic Revolution Forces Front in 2016. Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adal, a former speaker of the Parliament, is the head of this council. The Unity Council (Shoraye Vahdat) is another alliance of the fundamentalists that has actively entered the parliamentary elections. Manouchehr Mottaki, a former foreign minister, is the spokesman for the unity council. The Unity Council is critical of the performance of the current 11th Parliament. Both alliances emphasize the need for unity in this election, but in practice, they run for elections independently.

In the reformist’s camp, the Iran Reform Front organization, a coalition of a few reformist parties, is planning to enter the elections.[1]  Other parties have abandoned the regime’s elections. All leftists, nationalists, and major secular parties are currently banned. In the absence of the parties that are banned or have boycotted the elections, the elections will be turned into an internal competition between different spectrums of fundamentalist factions.

The Assembly of Experts Elections

The sixth term election of the Assembly of LeadershipExperts will also be held on March 1 to select new members to serve eight years. The Assembly is composed of 88 Islamic clerics who are responsible for supervising the Supreme Leader and selecting a new leader. This body only meets two times each year. The public directly elects its members from a list of candidates vetted by the Guardian Council. However, the Assembly of Experts’ election is not an actual election since, in some parts of the country, only one candidate is running, which makes it a selection rather than an election. Among notable candidates in this body were former president Hassan Rouhani and his former intelligence Minister, Mahmoud Alavi, who are current members, but the Guardian Council rejected their candidacies. Rouhani was rejected as a candidate for the clerical Assembly presumably because of his disastrous concession with Western powers over the 2015 Nuclear deal (JCPOA). President Ebrahim Raisi, who is currently a member of the Assembly of Experts, is expected to run for re-election in Tehran. The Assembly expects to select the future Supreme Leader.

Despite authorities’ efforts to mobilize the public to vote, low turnout is expected in the elections compared to the prior elections. Iranians express deep frustration because of the lack of freedom and the deterioration of the standard of living.

Akbar E. Torbat ([email protected]) is the author of “Politics of Oil and Nuclear Technology in Iran,” Palgrave Macmillan, (2020), . He received his Ph.D. in political economy from the University of Texas at Dallas.

[1] They include Kargozaran-e Sazandegi, Etemd Melli, Neday-e Iranian, and Hezb-e E’tedāl va Towse’eh.

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