Iran’s Sham Parliamentary Elections Aim to Strengthen Hard-Liners’ Hand

Iran is preparing for another set of rigged parliamentary elections Friday.

Once again, Iran’s clerical regime has vetoed the candidacies of almost half of the 14,000 would-be office-seekers who registered to run for one of the 290 seats.

The Guardian
Council, which must approve candidates, disqualified a record number of them,
including a majority of reformists who threaten the entrenched power of Iran’s
ruling hard-liners.

The purge left
reformists with no candidates eligible to run for 230 of the 290
seats in the Majlis, Iran’s parliament.

The Guardian
Council even disqualified 90 current members of the Majlis and barred them from
running for re-election.

President Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatic leader who has been undermined by ultra-hard-liners surrounding the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, criticized the Guardian Council, saying: “This is not an election. It’s an appointment.”

Rouhani, a lame-duck
prohibited from running for re-election when his second term expires next year,
has been diminished politically by massive protests over fuel-price hikes,
reduced government subsidies, high unemployment, widespread corruption, and
economic stagnation exacerbated by renewed U.S. economic sanctions.

As Iranian journalist Amir Taheri has noted, Iran is the only country in the world—with the possible exception of Zimbabwe—that is poorer than it was 40 years ago.

Although U.S.
sanctions have hurt Iran’s economy in recent years, Iran’s economic problems
are largely attributable to the economic mismanagement, widespread corruption,
and expensive efforts to export Iran’s revolution and build a massive proxy
terrorist network under the hard-line Islamist extremists who have dominated
Iran since the 1979 revolution.

In November, Iran
was shaken by another wave of popular protests against the repressive and increasingly
unpopular clerical regime. Spontaneous demonstrations against a fuel-price hike
escalated rapidly into widespread unrest and calls for the ouster of the
regime, before they were brutally repressed.

Rouhani has
become increasingly isolated. He has been criticized by many reformists for
failing to deliver on pledges to reform Iran’s economy and ease social and
political restrictions.  He also has
raised the ire of hard-liners, who opposed the nuclear agreement negotiated
with the Obama administration, as well as his efforts to trim the powers of
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

The Revolutionary
Guards, charged with protecting and expanding Iran’s Islamic Revolution, have
become increasingly assertive in carving out their own empire within Iran’s economic,
political, military, and foreign-policy spheres.

Since they report
directly to Khamenei, not Iran’s president, they prioritize the narrow
interests of Iran’s Islamist revolutionary elite over the broader national
interests represented by the Iranian state.

A Creeping Coup

The Revolutionary
Guards have become increasingly powerful politically. Many hard-line political
leaders are veterans of the Revolutionary Guards or the affiliated Basij
militia.

Their numbers are
likely to increase in the new Majlis, because they are more likely than
reformists or independents to gain the approval of the Guardian Council.

Moreover, many
reformists are calling for a boycott of the elections, which are designed to favor
the clerical regime’s strongest supporters. Reformists have concluded that as
long as the Guardian Council blocks their candidates and vetoes their
legislation, reform through parliamentary action is impossible.

Instead, an
influx of new hard-line members of parliament could reinforce the position of Khamenei
and his hard-line inner circle, while
greatly complicating Rouhani’s final year in office.

In contrast to Iran’s disillusioned reformists, hard-liners have appealed to their supporters to vote.  Khamenei has gone so far as to declare voting to be a “religious duty” and seeks to bolster the perceived legitimacy of Iran’s increasingly repressive political system by hailing the election as a vote of confidence in the regime.

But using voter
turnout as a litmus test for legitimacy could backfire if the turnout falls
below the 62 percent turnout in the 2016 parliamentary election or the 66
percent turnout in 2012.

Lower turnout,
however, could accelerate the Revolutionary Guards slow-motion coup against the
state.

The Revolutionary
Guards already have made major inroads in penetrating Iran’s construction
industry, oil sector, and port operations, as well as the military,
intelligence, and internal-security operations of the regime.

The rigged
elections are likely to further enhance their influence within the Majlis.

Such an outcome will reinforce the conclusion of many Iranians that the only vote that matters is that of Khamenei, who has absolute veto power over all major issues.

For more
information on this topic:

Will Iran’s Government Fall?

How Protests Undermine Iran and Its Proxies in Iraq and
Lebanon

Iran Nuclear Deal: Next Steps

U.S. Must Lead Strong Multinational Response
to Iran’s Extortion Strategy

Iranian Protests Underscore Regime’s
Vulnerability

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