Iran: Strange elections with strange results
Imagine a game in which you fix the rules, choose the players, hold a veto over the results and, yet, go on to cheat.
This is what happened last Friday with the ninth set of legislative elections in the Islamic Republic in Iran.
As always, the regime decided who was allowed to stand and who was not. Then, the task of running the exercise was given to the Ministry of the Interior rather than an independent election commission as is the norm all over the world. No need to say, the results could be changed or canceled by the Council of the Custodians, the mullah-dominated organ of the regime.
So, with such a configuration, why cheat?
The answer is that “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei wanted a show that would give him two things. First, he wanted a large turnout so that he could claim that Iranians have moved beyond the disputed presidential election of 2009. Next, he wanted a majority for those who support his decision to transform the Islamic Republic into an imamate.
The official narrative is that Khamenei has succeeded on both scores. The claim is that almost 64 percent of those eligible actually went to the polls and that Khamenei’s most partisan supporters won at least 200 of the 290 seats in the Islamic Majlis, the regime’s fake parliament.
However, a glance at the regime’s own data would refute both claims.
Let’s start with the turnout. Judging by age structures, the regime’s census data puts the number of those eligible to vote at over 52 million. However, the figure advanced by the Interior Ministry was 45.2 million. This means that some seven million eligible voters have been left out of the statistics from the start.
Even then, the picture is not as rosy as Khamenei claims.
Last Friday’s turnout was lower than that of three of the eight previous elections, especially in urban areas. In Tehran, for example, according to official figures, 5,460,000 people were eligible to vote, but only 2,119,689 voted. In Isfahan, Iran’s second largest city, turnout was around 32 percent.
The largest turnouts were announced for remote areas with no media presence. In Boyer Ahmad and Kohkiluyeh, the smallest of the provinces, almost 90 percent of those eligible to vote supposedly did so. In Charmahal-Bakhtiari and Elam, two other small provinces, the turnout was put at over 86 percent.
Turnout figures were marked up in other ways. The Interior Ministry’s website shows turnouts of between 90 and 128 percent in 127 of the 368 constituencies. This means that in some places the number of those who voted was higher than that of those eligible to vote. (Coincidentally, in Russia’s presidential election, Vladimir Putin is supposed to have won 90 per cent of the votes in Chechnya! Earlier, in Syria Bashar al-Assad scored an 86 percent win in his referendum!).
There was even an element of political vengeance in the way figures were massaged. In Shabestar, the hometown of Mir-Hussein Mussavi, the “Green Movement” leader who is under house arrest, such massaging produced an absurdly high turnout. The intended message was clear: Mussavi is repudiated even in his native town!
Election “fixers” also made sure that the few so-called reformist figures allowed as candidates suffered a dose of humiliation.
There is no logical reason for an 11 per cent rise in the turnout compared to the two previous elections for the Majlis when turnout was put at slightly higher than 50 per cent. The one-week campaign was one of the blandest in memory. And with better known figures in various factions, including those of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, not allowed to stand there was even less heat to attract the voters.
The regime has made much of the fact that former Presidents Rafsanjani and Muhammad Khatami did vote in the end. However, Rafsanjani, a clever fox as always, balanced his voting by telling TV audiences that he hoped “this time the real votes would be announced”, a reference to the disputed presidential election of 2009. For his part, Khatami issued a statement explaining why he had voted. In it he made no mention of Khamenei or Walayat al-Faqih or even Islam. Instead, he tried to cast himself as the custodian of the promises of the 1979 revolution.
Turnout aside, the results do not indicate the massive endorsement that Khamenei had hoped for his imamate claim.
Candidates most closely associated with Khamenei’s cult of personality identified themselves by referring to Walayat al-Faqih (Guardianship of the Jurists) or variations on that theme. Of the 200 seats declared by the time this column was composed, Khamenei’s partisans had won almost half. The so-called “reformists’ may well end up with 40 seats while Ahmadinejad’s partisans, hiding their identity as much as possible, could win a further 50 seats.
That would leave around 100 seats which, if preliminary analyses are correct, would go to three types of candidates.
First, there are the weathervanes that, as in any other political system, would side with whichever faction that appears to be winning. Next, there are individual politicians with strong personal bases, especially in parts of the country where ethnic minorities live. Finally, we could identify at least a dozen candidates representing the military and security apparatus and its business concerns.
The latest electoral exercise,a compliment that vice pays to virtue, does not, indeed could not, change the fundamentals of a system paralysed by its contradictions. The Khomeinist establishment remains divided among factions sharpening their knives against one another, waiting for the first opportunity to stab rivals.