Middle East

Middle East

The Dangers of Iran’s Electoral Crisis

Iranian reformist legislators barred from standing in the next elections stage a sit-in protest
Reformist Iranian legislators Mohsen Armin (left), Mohsen Safay Frahani (center), and Mohsen Sazegar Nejad (right), shown here at the sit-in protest, have all been banned from running in the upcoming elections (Photo: Henghameh Fahimi/AFP-Getty Images).

On Jan. 28, Iran’s primary pro-democracy student group urged voters to boycott the Feb. 20 legislative elections. It was the first public protest outside the halls of government since the Guardian Council, a 12-member panel of clerics charged with protecting the Islamic character of the government, banned half of the candidates from participating in the upcoming polls. Reformist delegates have been staging a sit-in protest at the legislative assembly, or Majlis, since the ban was announced on Jan. 10. And on Jan. 27, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami turned down the resignation of 16 members of his cabinet and dozens of other senior government officials who had quit in protest.

The growing wave of protest against the move by the Guardian Council and supervisory boards to restrict the freedom of the elections indicates that a new round of political tension is breaking out between the two powerful factions sharing the edifices of power in Iran today.

At first, it was only a group of representatives from the majority party who rose to protest the disqualifications by staging a sit-in at the seat of the Majlis to demand that the cases of disqualified candidates be re-examined. Today, the Guardian Council’s disregard for these protests seems to have stirred up a tide of protest. The thought of supporting the actions of the Guardian Council and some of the conservative forces in the Iranian government has apparently provoked disgust in others outside the Majlis.

More than 86 administrative officials—including ministers and deputy ministers—have resigned to protest what they called the illegal actions of the Guardian Council. This surprised the conservative minority in the government. It seems that the number of protestors is still on the rise and more administrative officials and political figures are going to resign in the next few days. So the tensions erupting between the two factions sharing the country’s political power—one that believes in the nation’s vote and the majority vote and another, the minority, that thinks a majority vote...cannot be an accurate way to elect representatives—will take on more extensive dimensions in the coming days. This has caused concerns in political circles on both sides.

The only sure thing is that the Islamic revolution of Iran was built on the foundation of the people’s will. Responding to the society’s collective demands and providing for the fundamental rights of the whole nation are still the main and basic essence of the revolution. So to deny society’s essential and fundamental demands, for any reason, would be to ignore the pillars and foundation of the Islamic revolution.

On this basis, the conservative faction and the minority illegally trying to restrict the activity of groups and people who don’t agree with their worldview must accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions. They must accept that Iran can no longer be controlled by a minority elite that allows only its own voice to be heard. They should respect the people’s vote and the will of the majority. As the constitution prescribes, they must allow all groups and individuals who believe in the Islamic system of governance to participate in free elections. They must not erect barriers against the expression of diverse views in the country’s political life.

There is no doubt that in the status quo it is unacceptable to foment a crisis between the ruling political forces for any reason. The expanding tide of protests against [the Guardian Council’s] illegal actions...could certainly stir up further waves of protest. The other side will naturally react to these protests, starting a cycle that could eventually turn into an all-out political war....Such a clash would, indeed, crack the pyramid of power. So before the range of these tensions gets any wider and the tide of protests swells, rational figures from both sides of this dispute must find a way out of this crisis, and as soon as possible. They need to use what time remains to encourage the people to participate in the upcoming legislative elections. Otherwise, the current protests may grow into perilous waves...and then neither of the groups responsible for the present state of affairs would be able to answer for the horrible situation that would ensue.