Election Sentiments: Eroding Hopes, Political Disenchantment

The significant backlash from reformists against a statement issued by reformist intellectuals to encourage voting highlights a profound erosion of hope for change, dwindling public trust, and declining social support for both reformists and the establishment.

While the Reformist Front of Iran has labeled the upcoming election as meaningless, uncompetitive, unfair, and ineffective, 110 reformist thinkers have issued a statement imploring the public to support a coalition of the remaining candidates from reformist and moderate backgrounds. These signatories, who have traditionally advocated for election participation, acknowledged the unfairness of the vetting procedures and the diminishing influence of the Majles on the nation’s fate. Yet they portrayed the election as an opportunity to voice protests and to prevent further consolidation of power by ultra-hardliners. Conservative outlets, interpreting the statement with apparent satisfaction, saw it as a sign of the reformists distancing themselves from their leader Mohammad Khatami and conceding defeat from their previous bet on Hasan Rouhani. The mood among the reformists, however, was markedly pessimistic, with some criticizing past failures to seize opportunities and questioning the viability of future steps towards moderation. The statement drew harsh comparisons from some quarters, likening the signatories to individuals unable to leave abusive relationships. Conversely, conservative pundit Abdolreza Davari viewed the petition as a genuine concern for strengthening the Nezam—a level of sincerity and loyalty not as prevalent among conservatives, in his opinion. In past elections, similar initiatives had mobilized segments of society, particularly the middle class. However, the current statement has so far failed to generate enthusiasm. The Reformist Front of Iran has not endorsed the statement, and there is no indication of official support for the emerging coalition led by moderate conservative Ali Motahhari and reformist Mas’ud Pezeshkian.

A poll by the Netherlands-based research institute Gamaan corroborates the tepid response to the statement and the public’s apathy towards the election. With 77 percent of 58,015 respondents indicating their refusal to participate in the upcoming elections, the 39-percent drop in participation from the last election marks a significant decrease in voter engagement. Notably, 65 percent of first-time voters, vital to the Nezam for their youth, have shown no interest in voting.

The narrative among conservatives emphasizes the need for high participation, framing low turnout as something desired by “enemies.” Despite efforts to project expectations of a participation rate above 60 percent through unidentified polls, concerns arise among some reformists over potential manipulation of numbers by the ministry of interior. Yet, figures like disqualified MP Ahmad Alirezabeigi suggest the administration might prefer a low turnout, as a weakened Majles is less interested in addressing constituents’ demands. A recent Quranic interpretation by the ultra-hardline Kayhan newspaper dismisses the significance of the majority’s vote, further illustrating the deep desires and beliefs of the hardliners in power.

Nonetheless, the domestic opposition to the Nezam and the prevailing disinterest in elections should not be hastily interpreted as a widespread call for street protests. The Gamaan survey revealed that, faced with a hypothetical referendum on the Islamic Republic akin to the one initiated by Ruhollah Khomeini at the revolution’s onset, 75 percent of respondents would vote against the Islamic Republic. However, when considering effective strategies for implementing change, the responses were divided: 33 percent supported the idea of street protests, 13 percent still saw value in elections as a mechanism for change, and another 33 percent felt that neither avenue would likely lead to any significant reform. This divergence in views may well illuminate the increasing tendency towards emigration, as many seek to escape the prevailing challenges out of sheer desperation.

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