Elections in Iran are big news. Not just because they receive too much attention in the foreign media. But also in the sense that they make a difference in the Iranian people’s lives in a way that — whether it feels small or big at first — is very meaningful in the longer term.
Iranians, like Americans, are mostly divided along two political lines — and the similarity ends there, at the number of dominant political inclinations: the principlist camp and the reformist camp.
Often, the enthusiasm that flares up just at the time of elections is stronger during presidential polls. People are understandably likely to see a presidential choice a lot more consequential in political and economic terms than, say, one of city council members. Iran’s economy, while self-sufficient in many ways, is dependent on its foreign relations in its own way. Iran is such a politically sensitive country in the world; it is smack-dab in a region beset by tumult and is indispensible to resolving many of the conflicts that plague the region, whether or not others are prepared to admit it. It is also the one country that stands up to the world’s biggest bully, America, with consequences that come with that standing up.
But people normally have particularly heightened political senses at the time of any elections.
Parliamentary elections, like the ones due on Friday, February 21, fall just below presidential polls in terms of voter sensitivity. Who gets to have a say in drafting the law of the land is no trivia. And whether the camp that has gotten its presidential candidate elected by the people could also populate the parliament with enough deputies to grant legal force to that president’s agenda for the duration of the two years (at least) that their terms overlap with that of the president is also crucial.
Candidates in the 2020 race have got competition. There are 208 constituencies across the country, and an average of 17 candidates will be vying for each out of the 290 seats in the Iranian Majlis. For the capital, Tehran, that figure is almost two and a half times as much: with 1,335 hopefuls, almost 44 individuals will be competing for every one of the 30 seats allocated to the capital.
While a preliminary list of candidates approved by the supervisory Guardian Council to run had excluded many prominent reformist figures, secondary vetting okayed another 2,000 people, re-enlivening the race for many reformist supporters who had been disappointed at first.
Still, some of the reformists’ top brass, sitting on a policy-making body, have refused to put out a list of candidates for Tehran in apparent objection to the disapproval of some of their hopefuls. But reformists in general have released two other lists that have many candidates in common, including their top favored candidate.
The principlist camp has also failed to agree on one list for Tehran, with factions initially publishing at least nine different lists (although some names appeared on more than one of them). Two of those lists were finally merged together and presented as a unity list by two of the main factions.
There are political independents, too, who have compiled their own lists or are running individually.
And with just one week’s time to campaign, the candidates, and their supporters, are up for real political combat in the capital and many of the other places across the country where the main two political streaks are often facing off with each other in a close race.
But the parliamentary elections this year are important for two very important reasons, almost matching the last presidential poll in Iran, in 2017, in significance: the withdrawal of the United States from the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018, which, coupled with Washington’s so-called maximum pressure campaign, then hit the Iranian economy hard, and the assassination in January this year of Iranian Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani by the US, which hurt the Iranian nation’s pride even more.
Those events have given a sense of urgency to the elections. Will the Iranian people take part in the polls, or have they been alienated from their government because of all the (foreign) pressure and just skip voting?
Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, laid out exactly that urgency in a speech on Tuesday, when he said Iran’s friends and foes alike were watching the Iranian elections this February.
“Enemies want to know what all of their attempts, the economic difficulties that exist in the country, the perfidy of the Westerners and the Europeans (in the Iran deal matter) toward Iran, and all the pressures — the maximum pressure, as they call it themselves — have finally done to the Iranian people,” Ayatollah Khamenei said. “Our friends all over the world, too, are watching with concern to see what happens.”
Iranian people are known for a quality that is very rare: perseverance. Survival, if you will. You might think that by hitting them hard, you would break them. But you only bring out their strongest patriotism in them if you make an attempt.
America just got a taste of that strong sense of Iranian-ness when unprecedented millions of people of virtually all political inclinations — even some people apathetic to the government — took out to the street to honor General Soleimani after his assassination.
While Iranians have grievances about their own government, there is no way they will let the bully from another neighborhood concern itself with any family matter, let alone attempt to break the family. As long as American bullying impacts their daily lives, and as far as they honor their nationhood and their democracy, Iranian people will thus show up at the ballot box in numbers that will speak for themselves.
By Hossein Jelveh.