As Iran approaches the upcoming Presidential election scheduled for June 2021, officials are concerned by a backlash by society. In this regard, they are doing their best to drag the people to the polls on the one hand and prevent potential protests on the other hand.
Furthermore, the clerical system is facing its most critical conditions since its establishment in February 1979. Socioeconomic crises have surrounded the rulers, and confusion has engulfed the entire ruling system. They feel public distrust and fury, which may erupt every moment, as was sparked with the rigged Presidential election in 2009 and was followed in December 2017, August 2018, November 2019, and January 2020.
The ayatollahs violently responded to people’s grievances in recent years, creating a profound gap between the state and society. They also made this social rift even deeper by their economic failures and mismanagement, while today, more than 80 percent of Iran’s population live below the poverty line, according to state-run media outlets.
Meanwhile, the Islamic Republic’s horrible policies amidst the coronavirus pandemic have fueled public anger more than ever. Officials tried to downplay the real aspect of the health crisis with a fabricated death toll and false information. However, their controversial remarks and flagrant lies, as well as the opposition’s revelations about the actual death toll, exposed systematic secrecy in Iran.
For instance, the March 29 official death count announced by the Health Ministry stood at 62,478, while many health professionals say the genuine number is far higher. “Over 239,600 people have died of the novel coronavirus in 526 cities checkered across all of Iran’s 31 provinces, according to reports tallied by the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) as of Monday afternoon local time, March 29,” declared the opposition.
In such circumstances, state-run media estimate only 15 to 20 percent of the population would participate in the Presidential election in the best-case scenario. Remarkably, media were ordered to publish these estimations only after passing precise checks, which looks like a labyrinth controlled by intelligence and security apparatuses.
Notably, the government experienced an unprecedented apathy to the Parliamentary elections in February 2020, which revealed that the system is no longer accepted among citizens. At the time, observers said that the apathy was the people’s backlash regarding the government’s cruel crackdowns on protesters in November 2019, which left more than 1,500 victims and at least 12,000 arrested.
“If public participation in the 2021 election is like the recent Parliamentary elections, we will face a crisis of legitimacy. The [Islamic Republic’s] legitimacy would be questioned if the Presidential election turns out to be like the recent Parliamentary elections,” Etemad Online quoted Mohammad Reza Sadr, a “reformist” member of the Expediency Council, as saying on March 27.
Moreover, the government, particularly the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, suffers from a fundamental contradiction. “Khamenei seeks to hold a vibrant election, but at the same time, seeks to install his own subservient candidate,” said Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), on March 20.
As the official with the final say in Iran, Khamenei sees isolation as the unique lifeline for saving the Islamic Republic. In this respect, he prefers to appoint a more obedient President like one of the commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). In other words, he has decided to put aside the game of “reformists versus hardliners,” showing there is no forecast for behavior change from inside.
On the other hand, “reformists” express their concerns over the ruling system’s bleak fate, issuing warnings about potential protests and uprisings. “If government unification [purging ‘reformists’] occurs, there is a dangerous issue for the country, and it will even have security risks. Because it prepares several conspiracies against the Islamic Republic, and in other words, it puts the Islamic Republic at risk,” said Sadr.
In this respect, the Supreme Leader would rapidly like to appoint an IRGC commander as the next President and further international isolation. In response, “reformists” grabble to win some shares in power and headlined “No to a military President” as their main slogan for the election campaign, wrote Arman daily on March 27.
In reality, the government has been stuck in a hazardous impasse. Khamenei cannot pass over his purpose for unifying the state and removing domestic rivals. Also, ignoring the “reformists versus hardliners” trick would be a spark in Iran’s powder keg.
Therefore, Iranian officials’ main concern—regardless of their political factions—is another round of nationwide protests. Iran observers say officials will do whatever it takes to defuse or delay protests at all costs, and the Presidential election is a stunt to disappoint citizens from further demonstrations and anti-establishment activities.