The 9th Islamic Consultative Assembly elections were held on Friday, March 2nd 2012. According to the unofficial results of the elections where 3,467 candidates ran for the 290 seats in the parliament, it was reported that 64, 2 per cent of 48 million people eligible to vote went to the polls.[i] The high level of participation in the elections, which expected to take place in an atmosphere of national mobilization, was declared to be “victory of the people” (pirooziye mellat) by the Iranian administration.
The election rally took place among the conservative groups. The conservative groups, who call themselves Principalists (Osoulgara), participated in the elections with different lists by splitting among themselves. The conservative supporters of President Ahmadinejad that the Principalists call deviant current (jarayane enherafi) participated in the elections with their own lists. On the other hand, the Green Movement, which is the biggest opposition group of the country, boycotted the elections. While Mostafa Kavakebian, leader of People's Sovereignty (Mardomsalari) which is a pro-reform group taking part in the elections, was not elected to the parliament; it was reported that 28 candidates from the reformist camp, 10 from the team supporting the government and 112 Principalist team comprising of the United Principalist Front, Perseverance Front and independent candidates have won enough votes to get into the parliament.[ii] According to the statement of Tehran's Head of Board of Elections; while the turnout rate in Tehran province was 55%, Gholam Ali-Haddad-Adel, the former Speaker of Parliament and candidate of the United Principalist Front, received most of the votes. Conservative candidates such as Mohammad Hassan Aboutorabifard, Ali Reza Marandi, Morteza Agha-Tehrani, Massoud Mir-Kazemi, Bijan Nobave, Ahmad Tavakkoli and Ali Motahhari took the lead in Tehran province which is represented in the Parliament with 30 representatives.[iii] While the current Speaker of Majlis (Parliament) Ali Larijani was elected as the first representative from Qom province; Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the current chairman of the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, was re-elected as well.
Despite the fact that the Iranian administration declared the victory of the people with 64,2%, it won't be wrong to say that the opinion of the people, who supported the reformist groups in the past due to the fact that “Green Movement” was terrorized and deterred from participating in the elections, was not represented in this percentage. The reformist camp claims that the election was rigged just like the 2009 Presidential elections. The reformist news sources publish the images secretly captured through the mobile phones and showing empty ballot boxes, where nobody came to vote, all around. Kaleme, which is a reformist news portal, publishes picture of two pages taken from Mehr News one under the other, which is one of the official news agencies of Iran, showing in the first one that there are 373 thousand people eligible to vote in Ilam province and in the second one that 380 thousand votes were counted in Ilam; and it is stated that the agency changed the figure after the aforesaid news, but it was asked to explain this difference.[iv] According to another reformist news agency, Baztabe Emrooz, it is stated that number of electorates in Tehran was shown 2,5 million less in the statistics compared to the 2009 presidential elections, and that this is not a mistake, but a trick played to show a higher rate of turnout in the elections.[v] All these show that while the Iranian administration give messages of unity around Islamic revolution and velayet by taking advantage of the people's interest in elections, a segment of the society severely question how the elections were held as well as the election results.
The Concept of “Popular Sovereignty” In Iranian Political System
The elections have been both considered as the symbol of popular sovereignty in Iran since the establishment of Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, it has also been the most important tool testing the commitment of the people to Islamic government and to Velayete Faqih. In other words, the Islamic Republic ensured its legitimacy by the participation of the people to the elections. As a matter of fact, in accordance with Article 57 and Article 58 of the Iranian Constitution, one of the sovereign forces under the surveillance of velayete amr is legislation, and legislative power is exercised by Islamic Consultative Assembly which is composed of representatives elected by the people. This means that the Iranian administration has two sources of legitimacy; one is religion, and the other one is popular sovereignty. Therefore, turnout in elections has always been important for the Islamic government.
However, people are not free while exercising the right to sovereignty. The dual structure of the Iranian government based on religion and people causes certain major troubles in exercising this right. One of the responsibilities of the Guardian Council, which is one of the religious institutions of the system that the Iranian constitution points out, is to confirm the competency (salahiyat) of candidates to participate in elections. The supporters of the ideas thought to be harmful to the Islamic regime are prevented from participating in the elections through this mechanism. While this situation reinforced the theocratic structure in the country, it also comes to mean the domination of the country by an oligarchic system that finds its roots in religion. Therefore while exercising their rights of sovereignty, people can elect among the candidates approved by a committee composed of the members who are not elected.
Nevertheless, the importance attached to the concept of popular sovereignty in line with revolutionary heritage in Iran prevents the Iranian system from becoming a dictatorship. It is true that the current regime is considered to be “dictator” by the political groups excluded from the system because of the dual structure. However the oligarchic regime created by this dual structure in Iran is a regime that the people relatively have a voice and which is comparatively open to the demands of the people. In this sense, the elections held at a regular basis are important approval mechanism for the Iranian regime.
Dominant Discourse of the Last Majlis Elections: Internal and External Enemies
The election rally in Iran from the 6th Majlis (Parliamentary) elections held in 2000 to the 8th Majlis (Parliamentary) elections held in 2008 took place between the reformist and conservative groups in the country. While the reformists were giving promises of democratization, protecting human rights and law, and more political and social freedoms to the people; the conservatives, however, brought traditional discourses of the Islamic Republic to forefront such as protection of religious values from deterioration and cultural attack of the West, maintenance of Islamic Revolution and carrying it further, reinforcement of velayet, protecting all the Muslims and the oppressed. In the elections held last Friday, we could watch the conservative wing's show of force (so to speak) even if split inside, not the rally of groups in different wings of the Iranian political spectrum. Under these circumstances, the elections were carried out under the dominance of discourse of “collaborating against the internal and external enemies”. But, who were these internal and external enemies?
The external enemies were the West and their allies. The US, UK, Israel and all other states pursuing policy against Iran in line with the same political views of these aforesaid states. These states, which are thought to pursue the aim demolishing the Iranian religious system of governance by ulama based on velayete faqih and to establish “a liberal Iran that adopts Western democracy” instead, were the archenemies of the Iranian regime. Especially the new sanctions imposed on Iran in the last six months by the Western countries who claim that Iran is not pursuing nuclear energy development program with peaceful aim, as argued by Iranian authorities, but by a hidden aim of producing nuclear weapon, created a serious problem in national economy. Furthermore, the allegations that the U.S. and Israel would declare war against Iran before reaching nuclear weapon posed a major threat against the Iranian regime. Furthermore, at the current point of tension, while the option of Western countries' imposing oil embargo on Iran was mentioned, Iran uttered threats to blockade oil pass through the Strait of Hormuz in such a case. These political tensions have had inevitable repercussions before the Iranians. The fact that prices increased in the country everyday along with the sanctions, that dollar exchange rate climbed suddenly, that restrictions were imposed on dollar exchange, and that doing business with the world became almost impossible for Iranian banks, caused people to suffer and increased at least antipathy, if not hostility, against the Western countries imposing sanctions on Iran. The words of war were real and disturbing for a nation whose mind has a fresh memory of a war lasted for a long time like eight years in its past.
The internal enemies were seditionists (fitnagara) and deviant current (enherafi) considered to be the instruments of external enemies in reaching their goals. The group which is described as the ones creating trouble in the society and causing enmity among the people by conservatives was the “Green Movement”, which poured into streets with the question of “Where is my vote?” by alleging that the votes were stolen after the 2009 elections and that the elections results were manipulated, and whose large-scale protests faced with bloody oppression by the state forces. Following these protests, during which many reformists were killed and a lot more were jailed, the leaders of the movement Mir Hossein Musavi and Mehdi Karroubi were put under house arrest. The Green Movement, which decided not to participate in the elections as they did not believe that the elections would be free and fair, tried to show their reactions also by not going to the polls and boycotting the elections.
The deviant current, however, was Rahim Mashaei, father-in-law of Ahmadinejad and Ahmadinejad's Chief of Staff, and his supporters. After the political crisis over Intelligence Minister between Ahmadinejad and Iran's Supreme Leader Khamene’i last year, Mashaei's challenging to regime's transnational umma discourse with his promotion of the concept of “Iranian Islam”, and afterwards, the involvement of bureaucrats and businessmen related to Mashaei and Ahmadinejad in the 3-billion-dollar bank fraud scandal led them to diverge from the conservatives, from whom they received support in the past. Moreover, even the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who are alleged to have played a major role in Ahmadinejad's elections in both terms, withdrew their support and joined their forces with Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, who also once supported Ahmadinejad. In the end, the Green Movement and Ahmadinejad, who had participated in the 2009 presidential elections as the most powerful competitors, were put in the same pot as seditionists and deviants by the conservative groups in the following 2012 Majlis elections, and they both became the internal enemies of Iran.
In such an environment, calls for Iranian nation to show their strong and united stance against these internal and external enemies and through this to convey the most powerful message to its place marked the last Majlis elections. This is because; the goals of these enemies were aiming to create a social split by spreading enmity and hostility among the people according to the Iranian government. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamene’i made a statement when he was voting and after indicating that the elections have always been important for Iran and that elections show the reality within the country both for friends and foes, he stated that today the best words the Iranian people can tell the enemies would be their acts and therefore that the more they go to the polls, the more it is important for the country. Khamene’i said going to polls is a duty for the Iranian as well as a right, and he also added that it is necessary to take advantage of this right and that this would be good both for the security and for the future of the country.[vi] Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani, Chairman of the Assembly of Experts responsible for electing and monitoring the Leader and the leader of the United Principalist Front that is the most powerful group of the elections, also indicated that going to the polls is a legal, religious and a national right; and then he added that the 9th Majlis elections were hoped to be a strong blow dealt at enemy. Casting his vote in Qom province from where he was candidate, Ali Larijani said he would use elections to seal the fate of the nation and he added that people against the Islam Republic would see the fact that the Iranians are in unity and determined to protect their revolution.[vii]
As these statements also indicate, unlike the previous elections, the 9th Majlis elections, in which groups adhering to different interpretations of the same political view were participated, were not regarded as a political competition but as a competition of Islamic Republic of Iran united with nation with the enemies inside and outside the country. In this competition, the turnout rate in elections would be an indicator for the Iranian establishment. Throughout the election day, the Iranian state television Seda va Sima broadcasted the images of Iranian citizens from every segment of the society saying that “I am casting vote as it is my duty and as I love my country” when microphone is handed to them in long queues in front of the crowded election centers and ballot boxes in an atmosphere full of joy and excitement and together with the slogan of “victory of the people”. According to the unofficial election results announced in the following day, the turnout in elections which is said to be 64,2% was more important than which party received more votes. In the political environment of internal opposition and external threat discourse, the 9th Majlis elections focused not on which group/groups were the winners but on how strong messages were given to the “common/collaborator enemies”. Which groups will constitute a majority in Majlis is certainly very important for the future of the Iranian politics. However, it appears that this can be discussed in the next stage.
»» Pınar ARIKAN, ORSAM Middle East Advisor, METU Department of International Relations