Iran elections marked by record low turnout

By Sultan al-Barei in Riyadh and AFP


A poll worker checks identifications before Iranian voters can cast their ballot in a parliamentary election at a polling station in Tehran on February 21st. [Atta Kenare/AFP]

Iran's conservatives claimed victory Sunday (February 23rd) in a general election marked by the lowest turnout since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The poll came amid public anger against the government, an economic downturn and the disqualification of half the candidates.

The interior ministry announced results of 95% of the 208 constituencies in Friday's election, declaring the names of the winning candidates but without specifying their political affiliation.

Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli announced the participation rate was 42.6% -- the lowest in four decades.


An Iranian man casts his ballot at a mobile polling station in Tehran on February 21st. Electoral authorities in Iran extended voting for several hours in the Islamic Republic's parliamentary election on Friday, state television reported. [Atta Kenare/AFP]

He claimed the participation rate was "acceptable" for Iran after it experienced bad weather, an air disaster, a coronavirus outbreak and other incidents in the lead-up to Friday's election.

A low participation had been widely forecast, as a conservative-dominated electoral watchdog disqualified about half of the 16,000-odd candidates, mostly moderates and reformists.

Polls closed Friday after multiple extensions that saw voting extended at least five times for a total of six hours, to allow a maximum number of people to vote.

Voter apathy marked the polls, but Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei lauded the people's "huge participation" despite what he termed "negative propaganda" by foreign media.

'Elections were a farce'

The parliamentary elections were no more than a stageplay put on by the Iranian regime and directed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iranian affairs experts told Al-Mashareq.

The elections did not reflect the real popular will, they said, noting that Iranians' abstention from the voting process reflects their disenchantment with their rulers and lack of confidence in the policies that have been pursued for decades.

"The parliamentary elections were nothing more than a farce," said Iranian affairs researcher Fathi al-Sayed of al-Sharq Centre for Regional and Strategic Studies.

They were aimed at maintaining the hardliners' control over parliament and preventing the entry of reformists and moderates, he told Al-Mashareq.

This was evident prior to the elections through the rejection of the nomination of thousands of people and their exclusion from the political arena, he said.

Al-Sayed said this is why the Iranian people stayed away from the ballot boxes, noting that the turnout rate was the lowest since the IRGC came to power.

The figures released by government institutions claim turnout was about 40%, he said, "while in truth, according to the polling stations figures and counts, the actual turnout was only about 20%".

Lack of confidence in regime

Iranian affairs researcher Sheyar Turko attributed the low voter turnout rate to the Iranian people's lack of confidence in their rulers and their rejection of the policies pursued domestically and abroad.

These policies have led to dire economic conditions that have driven many Iranians below the poverty line, depleted the Iranian treasury and seen the use of public funds to finance the IRGC and its external military operations, he said.

These policies also have led to sanctions being imposed on the Iranian economy to pressure the IRGC to stop its transgressions and provocations in the region, he said, noting that most countries in the region are now at odds with Iran.

This hostility is the consequence of Iran's continuous interference in their internal affairs, Turko said.

A sense of frustration with the ruling class also prevails on account of the lack of personal freedoms and the continuous crackdowns on those who are demanding change and a change in the policies being pursued by the regime, he added.

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Salah Al Najar