The Islamic Republic of Iran’s next parliamentary elections will be held on February 21, 2020. Due to the uprisings from December 2017 to January 2018 in more than 100 cities and the US “maximum pressure” strategy through economic sanctions, it seems that there is going to be a different election in Iran this time. In this report, I will focus on four aspects of the 2020 parliamentary elections: competition, coalition-building, irregularities, and the expected level of public participation.
Political Factions and Competition
Iranian political factions and institutions are getting ready for Iran’s eleventh parliamentary elections to be held in February 2020. They have the same concerns about public dissatisfaction towards the political elite but have different organizational and political issues to tackle in preparation for the elections.
The principlists have no problem in confirming their eligibility for the Guardian Council. They have no problem with gaining licenses for their parties to participate in the elections and they have no problem in financing their campaigns. Their main concern is unity and this is hard to achieve. “The umbrella of Jamna, the Unity Council and other groups has not been able to take all the principlists under its shadow. Consultations are in progress, but simultaneously the opposite is heard,” said Shahab al-Din Sadr the President of Progress, Welfare, and Justice Coalition, a principlist group.
Tehran’s ex-mayor, Mohammad Reza Qalibaf has launched a national campaign to send young people to the Majles. So far, the three authoritarian parties, the Piedary party whose spiritual leader is Mohammad Taqi Misbah, the Mo`talefeh party whose leader is Asadullah Badamchian, and the Progress and Justice of the Islamic Iran party led by Qalibaf, are determined to have a larger share of parliamentary seats, and some, like the Mo`talefeh party, are considering presenting a specific party list for the parliamentary elections.
There are three approaches to the next elections in the reformist camp. The first approach is to boycott the elections. Some reformists such as Mostafa Tajzadeh seriously dispute participating in the eleventh Majles elections. They argue that reformists should not participate in this election due to the disqualification of candidates by the Guardian Council. The second approach says that reformists, despite their criticisms, should unconditionally participate in this election. The former President Mohammad Khatami advocates this approach. The third approach is conditional participation, as long as the system disqualifies the reformists, their political presence in the elections is useless but if the system opens a little bit, the reformists should participate. Abbas Abdi is an advocate of this approach.
Political groups close to the former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are also interested in competing against the reformist and principlist camps but their chances of having their candidates qualified by the Guardian Council are very low. If a part of the reformist camp is going to boycott the elections and some parts of the principlist camp will be sidelined by other principlists, it seems that the competition is not going to be as much as in the 2015 parliamentary elections.
Low Participation Expected
Iranian officials are aware that political participation is going to be lower than past presidential and parliamentary elections. This is because of the high level of government corruption and inefficiency. The participation level in Tehran’s municipality election in July 2019 was less than 9 percent. With a lower participation expected in the parliamentary elections, Iran’s Parliament has reduced the required vote tally for a parliamentary candidate to gain a seat from 25 to 20 percent. The reformist camp is trying to use this expected lower participation to press the Guardian Council to qualify more reformist candidates for the coming election, something that is not likely to happen.
Irregularities are expected to be a major factor in the next parliamentary elections. This is what Mostafa Reza Hosseini Ghotbabadi, and a former legislator from Shahr Babak (Eighth Majles) said in an interview to Khabaronline: “Unfortunately, we see that the votes of our addicts, which are a substantial population, especially in a constituency in which 50 to 100 votes change the outcome, are purchased due to the financial needs of this group; … the votes are purchased for around 200,000 tomans.”
Political corruption is rife. Mahmoud Sadeqi, a Tehran legislator says that some people are invited to Seyyed Azizullah Mosque and pay up to 2 billion tomans to get the Guardian Council’s confirmation.
Selling and buying votes as well as nominations are not new in Iran’s parliamentary elections. During the last elections, Aftab Yazd newspaper in a piece titled “Who Proposed 2 Billion [Tomans] Payment to be a Candidate in the Hope List” wrote: “It seems that a request was made by the secretary-general of one of the prominent reformist parties, in which he held private meetings with nominees wishing to be in the Hope List (reformist coalition); they offered to pay 2 billion tomans to be present on the list.”