Navigating the Iranian Elections: Debates, Disqualifications and Public Discontent


Iran held its parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections on March 1, 2024. Out of the 61.17 million people eligible to vote only 25 million people cast their votes. As per indications by state media, the results reveal a decisive victory for “hardliner” candidates amidst a reported turnout of around 40 % which is the lowest since the 1979 revolution. Despite Iranian government assertions of high voter turnout, the reported figures suggest widespread apathy and disengagement, particularly evident in Tehran, where turnout was less than 25%. Notable “hardliner” figures like Hamid Resaee and Mahmoud Nabavian received a larger share of votes in Tehran, reinforcing the alliances led by “hardliners” dominate in the capital whereas the Parliament Speaker Mohammed Bagher Ghalibaf came in fourth place. Ultraconservative cleric Ahmad Khatami, who currently serves as the imam of Friday prayers in Tehran, secured a position in the Assembly of Experts from Kerman, and President Ebrahim Raisi was re-elected with 82.5 % votes from South Khorasan.

These elections were the first since widespread protests erupted in the aftermath of the death of Mahsa Amini in 2022. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei encouraged voting, emphasizing participation; over 15,200 candidates were approved to run, as per official sources. These elections were held in the context of the Iranian government’s facing significant challenges in maintaining political stability and addressing the dire socioeconomic situation exacerbated by soaring inflation and diminishing purchasing power.

Like previous elections, the exclusion of the “reformists” and “moderates” by disqualifying most of their candidates drew criticism from political parties like the Moderation and Development Party of former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, who criticized the preordained nature of the elections. The disqualification of former President Rouhani from the Assembly of Experts elections signalled a setback for Iran’s “reformist” and “moderate” factions.  Ali Motahari, leading the electoral list for the Voice of the Nation coalition,  stressed the significance of electoral participation to push forward reforms and maintain the ruling system’s stability.   This list also featured several prominent politicians, academics and former parliamentarians. Despite acknowledging previous electoral deficiencies, Motahari advocated involvement in the political system to bring about reforms.  He cautioned against non-participation in the elections, warning that it would empower opposing factions and potentially result in the system’s overthrow. Secretary of the Guardian Council Ahmad Jannati warned of a foreign conspiracy to undermine the elections and urged the Iranian people to support the elections.

Detained prominent “reformist” Mostafa Tajzadeh expressed his discontent by refusing to participate in the parliamentary elections, making clear his dissatisfaction with the supreme leader and the ruling elite.  Javad Emam, a leading Iranian “reformist” politician had earlier called for the “hardliners”  to apologize for the country’s crisis, and stressed the need for  unity within the Reform Front despite differing views on participating in the parliamentary elections. Regardless of their affiliations in recent years, several political activists and prominent figures expressed their dissatisfaction with the Iranian government’s handling of the economy and social tensions. As a part of the election strategy, the representatives of the Reform Front, under the chairmanship of Azar Mansouri, cited “non-competitive and ineffective elections” as reasons to boycott the elections. Earlier, the Assembly of Qom Seminary Scholars and Researchers of Iran also had declared the parliamentary elections meaningless and refrained from providing candidate lists, citing government restrictions and widespread disillusionment among Iranian citizens. The approach of the “reformists” to the elections was divided between boycotting and advocating for consensus-building – sparking divergence among the factions. The pro-boycott “reformist” faction criticized the legitimacy of the elections, whereas, on the other hand, the pro-participation faction stressed the importance of involvement in the political system despite previous setbacks. Some recent surveys indicated a low intention among the Iranian people to vote in the elections, with a significant portion favoring protests over elections as a more effective method for change and reform in Iran – further reflecting public disillusionment and discontent.

The Assembly of Experts elections were critically important in the context of choosing the next supreme leader.  Given the current supreme leader’s age and documented health issues, choosing who will take his post is vital for the continuity and stability of the ruling system.  Notably, President Raisi and Mojtaba Khamenei, the son of the current supreme leader, are seen within “hardliner” circles as viable contenders to be the next supreme leader. These candidacies have drawn criticism from figures like former Iranian Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi.

In recent years, the Iranian ruling system has faced significant resistance from the younger generations, who call for re-evaluating state-society relations.  Unlike previous generations, today’s youth have access to more information and are more aware of domestic, regional and global developments. The younger generations are disenchanted with the “hardliner” establishment and advocate for greater individual liberty and political freedom. Exposed to the changing regional dynamics and the economic prosperity and social transformations in the Gulf states, their disillusionment with the ruling class grows by the day.  Despite government efforts to censor and suppress dissent, the Iranian youth are persisting in challenging the status quo, posing a threat to the ruling system as seen during the anti-hijab protests.

Two decades after former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami acknowledged the obstacles to reforms caused by interventions and impediments by the Guardian Council, the Iranian political landscape in 2024 presents even greater challenges, constraints and obstacles to pushing forward substantial reforms – especially as the “hardliners” now dominate and consolidate their authority over all branches of government.  Moreover, in recent years, the ruling elite has increasingly resorted to violent measures to suppress dissent, significantly limiting the possibility of mobilization for the sake of reform and change.

Editorial Team