Iran – election turnout further undermines regime

3rd July 2021

Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi – a further indication of the regime taking a hardline

The election of hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, in presidential elections in Iran recently, may indicate a further period of isolation for Iran on the international stage.

The role of the president in a theocratic dictatorship, such as the Islamic Republic of Iran, may appear to be superfluous, with ultimate power being concentrated in the hands of Supreme Leader, Ayotollah Ali Khameini. However, the selection of president is often an indication of the attitude of the theocracy in relation to its international position. 

While the president may lay claim to having an elected mandate this is illusory in any real sense as the choice of candidates open to the public is strictly controlled by the regime.  Any hint of opposition to the prevailing orthodoxy is weeded out.  Thus, for the recent presidential elections, of the 40 candidates originally submitted, only seven were allowed to stand.  These represented a very narrow range of political views, effectively reflecting varying shades of support for the regime.  Any semblance of genuine opposition was excluded.

The 40 year history of the Islamic Republic has seen the legitimacy of each presidential election questioned as the political differences amongst candidates narrows each time.   Gerrymandering, vote rigging and intimidation have also featured heavily in the election process to ensure that the regime’s preferred candidate is successful.

It was an open secret that the regime’s preferred candidate for the recent election was Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative cleric and Chief Justice.  Raisi is infamous amongst the opposition in Iran for having been a member of the notorious “death committee”, which saw the execution of thousands of Iranian political prisoners, mainly socialists and communists, put to death in 1988 by being hanged from cranes.

There was a widespread call from opponents of the regime to boycott the election, with a record low turnout of only 48.8% of the electorate voting. 

Iran went into the elections at a time when the country is blighted by economic bankruptcy due to the implementation of macro policies formulated by the clerical regime to serve the interests of the country’s capitalists and powerful super-rich class.  This is exacerbated by the economic sanctions imposed by the United States in contravention of international law, following the unilateral withdrawal of the US in 2018 from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal.

As a result, tens of millions of Iranians live below the poverty line; unemployment levels are sky-high, especially among the youth; and inflation is rampant. In addition, Iran has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic, wholly exacerbated by the regime’s feeble response, which has led to the deaths of more than 80,000 people and a further sharp deterioration in the economic situation.

As a consequence, opposition to the regime in the form of street protests, openly denouncing corruption, economic mismanagement and demanding economic equality and social justice, have been growing.  The spirit of defiance, which is building amongst the population as a whole, is met with increasing ruthlessness by the security forces involving both violence and mass arrests. 

Most recently the strike by workers in the oil and petrochemical industries, which began on the 19th June, has spread to numerous sites across the vast oil and gas exploration fields as well as the oil industry in general.  According to a statement released by the Union of Metalworkers and Mechanics of Iran (UMMI), 28,000 workers have downed tools and remain determined to stay out until their demands are met.

The human rights record of the Iranian regime continues to be an appalling litany of arrest, imprisonment, trumped up charges and little or no access to legal representation or medical care.

The regime is setting great store by the latest round of negotiations in Vienna, to revive the JCPOA, as a means to reverse the economic decline.  While taking a belligerent stance towards the United States in public the Iranian regime are all too aware that to engage in international markets access to dollars and international financial institutions is vital.

For its part the US is equally aware of Iran’s weakness and this will no doubt form part of US calculations as the negotiations progress.   It will certainly take precedence over any human rights concerns as the US looks to open up Iranian markets and exploit the potential for utilising Iran as a source of cheap labour.

Decades of neoliberal economic restructuring based on IMF prescriptions and internal corruption within the regime, have vastly increased the private wealth of the upper layers of the clergy in Iran, while producing a weak and hollowed-out national economy, fully reliant on the export of crude oil, itself restricted due to the sanctions regime.

The outcome of the election on 18th June has seen the installation of an even more vicious, anti-democratic, and fiercely entrenched Islamist administration in Iran. This will necessitate the beginning of an era of reinvigorated campaigning for the rights of the Iranian people.  This will be for trade union rights, women’s rights, the right to freedom of speech, the right to freedom of association, and much more. The international campaign of solidarity with the struggle of the Iranian people for peace, human and democratic rights, and social justice, must step up and demonstrate its effectiveness.

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