Parliamentary elections in Iran: A circus, but no bread

If current parliamentarians are engaged in economic corruption, as the Guardian Council claims, why does the judiciary not indict those corrupt parliamentarians?
Sunday 09/02/2020
Iran’s Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani (L) and President Hassan Rohani during a parliamentary session in Tehran, last December.(AFP)
Political transactions. Iran’s Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani (L) and President Hassan Rohani during a parliamentary session in Tehran, last December.(AFP)

As Iran prepares for parliamentary elections February 21, its citizens are once again watching supreme ringmaster Ali Khamenei present his troupe of clowns, magicians, acrobats and jugglers.

The circus artists will doubtlessly deliver their well-rehearsed performances but will the Iranian public play its expected role by voting at the grand finale?

Pre-empting the supreme ringmaster, Iranian President Hassan Rohani opened the show October 9 by praising the first, and arguably freest, parliamentary election in the history of the Islamic Republic.

In the March 13, 1980, elections Rohani said: “There was no monitoring of the kind we see now. There was no Guardian Council… and different factions registered [their candidates]. Even the Monafeqin [a reference to the oppositional People’s Mujahedeen of Iran], the [Iran] Freedom Movement and the National Front registered their candidates. This resulted in the best election and the best parliament! Let us not be so strict and let us not narrow the filter.”

Rohani, in a televised address January 15, directly attacked the Guardian Council’s election engineering through disqualification of candidates: “Don’t tell us there are 17, 170 or 17,000 candidates for each parliamentary seat,” Rohani said. “Let us see how many factions are represented among those 17 candidates… It’s no election if all 17 candidates belong to the same faction.”

In his concluding salvo, Rohani said: “The people want diversity. Let all [political] parties and groups participate in the elections and it will definitely not be to your detriment.”

Rohani, of course, did not explain why he has not shown a similar concern for “diversity” of candidates throughout his 40-year political career.

The Guardian Council offered the explanation. Within an hour after Rohani’s criticism, the council issued a statement accusing the president of “ignorance of the vetting process.” Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei, Guardian Council spokesman, on Twitter alluded to disqualification of Rohani’s son-in-law as the main motive behind the president’s criticism.

By February 1, contours of a political purge of the parliament began to emerge. Kadkhodaei, speaking at a news conference, said 16,033 individuals had registered as candidates competing for 290 parliamentary seats. “Twenty-odd percent” were disqualified on grounds of “economic corruption,” lack of “practical commitment to the guardianship of the jurist” and the like. However, he strenuously dismissed allegations of the Guardian Council systematically disqualifying Rohani’s allies among the candidates.

A survey of disqualified candidates who serve as parliamentarians and whose factional affiliation is known suggests otherwise: Most disqualified parliamentarians belong to factions supportive of Rohani and outgoing parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani.

In a rare show of bravery, Larijani openly challenged the Guardian Council allegation of “economic corruption” among parliamentarians. After all, if current parliamentarians are engaged in economic corruption, as the Guardian Council claims, why does the judiciary not indict those corrupt parliamentarians?

Larijani’s defence for fellow parliamentarians is as unprecedented as Rohani’s concern for political diversity but this, too, is expected from a man who is preparing to run for president in 2021.

The entire process quickly degenerated into a farce: Parliamentarian Tayebeh Siavoshi was disqualified on grounds of “lacking commitment to the regime.” After she protested the ruling, the Guardian Council sent her a letter adding “lack of practical commitment to Islam” to the grounds on which she was disqualified.

Another parliamentarian, Ali Motahari, was first disqualified but was offered a way out by the Guardian Council if he “falls into line.” He declined.

Gholamreza Heydari, a third parliamentarian, was disqualified and, when he protested, was summoned to the Guardian Council: “An ‘expert’ with a file in his hands was sitting next to Mr Kadkhodaei… He asked: ‘Why did you, in a speech, say our involvements in Syria and Yemen entail a cost and the sanctions are effective?’”

Heydari was disqualified on grounds of lacking commitment to the regime.

Amid the drama, mayhem and the farce, supreme ringmaster Khamenei on February 5 urged “anyone who loves Iran to vote.” Will the Iranian public, sick of the breadless circus of the Islamic Republic, play its role in the grand finale and vote?

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