TEHRAN BLOG: Record low turnout expected in Iranian parliamentary elections

TEHRAN BLOG: Record low turnout expected in Iranian parliamentary elections
The chorus of people inside the country urging a total boycott of the system appears to be growing. / bne IntelliNews
By bne Tehran bureau February 29, 2024

In the run-up to the Iranian parliamentary elections on March 1, the city's atmosphere is thick with anticipation and speculation. The uncertainty and the fears are shown by the continuing weakening of the rial on the black market to its lowest-ever level of around IRR600,000 to the dollar in recent days.

Iran's streets are full of campaign posters, some of which look almost Western in their style. Many people, however, appear to be ignoring the event and carrying on with their lives as the currency crisis continues to eat into their purses.

Meanwhile, with the rial (IRR) now on yet another spiral downwards—for the third time since President Ebrahim Raisi came into power in 2021— arch-conservatives are quick to blame others, usually the US and its allies, but not themselves for pressing ahead with self-damaging policies, including supporting militant groups in Iraq and Yemen’s unrecognised Houthi government, and for selling Moscow dozens of drones and rockets.  

Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the republic, declared in 1979 that "the people's vote" is "the measure" for state policies. Yet after the 2022 protests the regime clamped down and it has tightened restrictions on who can stand this time around. A growing cohort of regime critics, some even inside the country, are therefore urging people not to vote.   

The Assembly of Experts, the body which elects the next supreme leader, also has an election on the same day. It is expected to be another limited affair, with even well-known names such as former reformist president Hassan Fereydoun Rouhani being booted off the list in favour of loyal apparatchiks.

Hadi Tahan Nazif, spokesman for the hardline-controlled Guardian Council, an official body which filters potential candidates, said “in the upcoming elections in Iran, the Guardian Council stresses the importance of a democratic process that reflects the will of the people”.

He added that with around 60,000 polling stations for this year's elections, over 15,000 candidates have been approved as parliamentary candidates.

“Notably, there are six times more female candidates than available seats in the parliament, showcasing a significant step towards gender inclusivity in Iranian politics,” he added with a wry smile to the cohort of local and international media covering the elections.

The focus remains on encouraging “high participation rates,” Tahan Nazif said, amid expectations it could be a record low.

The Tehran governorate expects a particularly low turnout in the capital. Officials have suggested that Tehran's residents often return to their hometowns to support local candidates.

Surveys attempting to forecast voter turnout have emerged with divergent projections that cast doubt on the credibility of their methodologies.

Establishment organisations such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) Tasnim News Agency predict a bumper national turnout of 47%, while state broadcaster the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) estimates it at 41%.

According to the free-wheeling Iranian Students Polling Agency (ISPA), voter turnout is expected to be around 41% nationally, with a margin of error of ±2%.

In the Tehran electoral district, encompassing Tehran, Rey, Shemiranat, Islamshahr, and Pardis, the expected participation rate is predicted at just 23.5%, with a margin of error of ±2%.

Another recent opinion poll anonymously paints a grim picture of voter enthusiasm, with projected turnouts of 30% nationwide, 22% within Tehran province, and a mere 10% in Tehran itself.


The electoral battle in Tehran is further complicated by the release of final candidate lists revealing the fragmentation within the conservative camp. The discord within the wider conservative ranks, juxtaposed with the potential for a moderate conservative resurgence, could potentially be a game changer.

Political parties in the Western sense were banned at the outset of the revolution by Ayatollah Khomeini. Therefore candidates compete as groupings, with different colours marking who’s backing whom. The ‘principlists,’ or conservatives, have fielded three separate lists, while the ‘moderate and reformist’ factions have united under a single banner.

The division between right-wing and even further right is especially pronounced between the supporters of the old guard parliamentary speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and other so-called Principalist factions, something that could ultimately benefit their political adversaries.

Among the hardliner conservative contenders, the so-called "Iran's Morning" list stands out, endorsed as it is by media personality Ali Akbar Raefipour and Saeed Mohammad, former head of the IRGC's Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters and a disqualified presidential candidate.

United by their opposition to Ghalibaf, this alliance is an emerging political force that could disrupt the traditional power balance. Partly it represents a generational shift within the conservative factions as those that began the republic are now in the 70s, 80s or even 90s.

The geriatric nature of the old guard of the Islamic Republic is becoming more prominent with every year passing, with their paranoia of the West their remaining driving force. The increasing rigidity of the Islamic Republic and its top flight of clerics  only further alienates the majority of the population, who have experienced only eternal financial sanctions and poor economic and life prospects.

The chorus of people inside the country urging a total boycott of the system appears to be growing. On February 21, Abolfazl Qadiani, an Iran-based critic of the system, urged people to avoid the ballot boxes on March 1, the strongest worded letter to date published inside the country.

“The overwhelming majority of the nation has already boycotted the electoral circus because they rightly perceive that participating in the elections solidifies the highly unstable power bases of Ali Khamenei, the self-indulgent power-hungry tyrant of Iran, and that participating in the elections tramples on the blood of the beloved martyrs who sincerely sacrificed their blood for freedom, democracy, justice, and liberation from the clutches of tyranny,” he wrote.

“Hence, the upcoming election must be boycotted with all might by freedom-lovers, justice-seekers, and opponents of the regime.”