Polls open in Iran’s parliamentary elections. It is a decisive vote, a kind of referendum on the policy of openness to the world, inaugurated by President Hassan Rohani. On the eve of these crucial elections, the head of the electoral commission Mohammad Hussein Moghini announced that about 1400 candidates – out of the 6233 that were approved by the Guardian Council – have given up on running for one of the 290 seats at stake in the new Iranian Parliament, the tenth Majlis since the 1979 revolution.
Moghini said only that in today’s vote will be vying 4844 aspiring deputies, without giving any explanation of such a large number of defections. However, what seems to be worrying the authorities more than anything else at this time is the turnout. A survey conducted on a sample of 36 thousand people from the super-official IRIB, the issuer of the Iranian Islamic Republic, reports that 40% of the approximately 55 million Iranian voters might not go to the polls. This is an extremely high percentage. If confirmed, it will be higher even than the 37% in 2012.
That year, however, the reformists invited the people to boycott elections as an act of protest against alleged fraud that in 2009 had led to the reaffirmation of the ultraconservative Ahmadinejad, causing riots on the streets, the so-called “Green Revolution”, and the bloody repression at the hands of the Pasdaran. Now the climate is apparently different: in 2012, in addition to the new Majlis, was elected the moderate president Hassan Rohani. In 2015 there was an agreement on downsizing the Iranian nuclear program and, in early 2016, the end of the embargo against the Islamic Republic, as well as Tehran’s official return on the international scene.
This time everyone – although everyone has their own agenda – invite Iranians to vote. So does the Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Khamenei, who called for a Parliament capable of defeating the ever-recurring “US and Western plots”; President Rohani who believes that the time to see interference of “outdated colonial powers” around every corner joins Khamenei; they call to vote the Conservatives-fundamentalists, lined up upon Khamenei’s indications and the opposite front of moderate reformists who support Rohani and who are determined not to leave the majority in the Parliament to their opponents as it happened in 2012.
In its survey, IRIB points out that a part of the electorate has not decided yet whether or not to go to the polls. In the end, the percentage of abstention might reach 30%. On paper, today’s vote is of utter importance because it is the first consultation after the nuclear deal and it may allow President Rohani to have the new Majilis as an ally rather than as a boycotter, the policy adopted towards the West. Many of those who will not vote, however, emphasize that a parliament with such limited powers cannot have a relevant role.
Members may pass laws, but the decision on whether they are constitutional or not belongs to the Guardian Council, composed of 12 members, 6 religious men appointed directly by the Supreme Leader and six Islamic jurists nominated by the head of the judiciary power in Iran (who is appointed by the Supreme Leader in his turn). The Council of Guardians selects also the parliamentary candidates. Out of about 12 thousand applicants, were chosen over 6,200 people, 600 of whom are women. After hundreds of cancellations, the authorities have not yet communicated the proportion of women among the aspirant deputies.
Today also another body will be voted: the Assembly of Experts, in office for 8 years and composed of 86 members who will have the task of monitoring the activities of the Supreme Leader and appointing his successor. Here the vote seems to be even more a formality because after the Guardian Council’s selection, out of the 801 candidates only 166 remained in contention. There are no women among them (although there are 16 religious women among the aspirants). In some colleges there will be only one candidate.