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Don't Blame Coronavirus for Iran's Dismal Voter Turnout

iran coronavirus

Iran. A Tehran municipal worker cleans a bus to avoid the spread of the COVID-19 illness on Feb. 26, 2020. Iran said Tuesday its coronavirus outbreak, had claimed lives and infected others. The Islamic republic's neighbors have imposed travel restrictions and strict quarantine measures. (Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images) 

Micah Halpern By Thursday, 27 February 2020 02:52 PM EST Current | Bio | Archive

Iran just experienced the lowest voter turnout since the Revolution of 1979. In national elections that took place on Friday, Feb. 21, a mere 42% of eligible voters went to the polls.

For Iranian leadership, this election was nothing short of a dismal failure.

"The turnout across the country was 42.57 percent," Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli told a televised news conference the following Sunday. "In [the capital] Tehran, it was around 25 percent. Across Iran, over 24 million people voted."

Did you catch that? In the cosmopolitan capital city of Tehran, only 25% of the people bothered to vote. And it’s not because this was a lackluster election period.

The president of Iran urged people to vote. The revered Supreme Leader, the Grand Ayatollah, urged people to vote. He even pronounced that it was a religious obligation to vote.

But nothing worked.

National elections take place every four years in Iran. In 2012 there was a 66% turnout. In 2016 a 62% turnout. This is the first dip below 50% — significantly below 50% — and 20% off the last election.

The election was a referendum on the government. In many countries, citizens vote with their feet. They walk to their polling stations and cast their ballots for the candidates of their choice. This year, in Iran, Iranians chose to make their point and express their displeasure by not walking, by not voting.

Avoiding voting booths was the method Iranians, en masse, chose to express their displeasure with the religious leadership.

Religious leadership in Iran always keeps a tight hold on elections. This year, in an election to fill the 290 seat Iranian Parliament, the hold was tighter than usual. So much so, that thousands of candidates were disqualified from running by religious leadership. Included in that number were eighty-four sitting members of parliament.

Let’s not kid ourselves.

It’s not difficult to rig an election in Iran.

It’s done all the time.

In this election, leadership chose to strike almost all reformers from the ballot. When that happens, hardliners are hands down winners. And that’s exactly what happened. With only a 25% voter turnout in Tehran, the hardliners won every single district in the capital.

And yet, Iranian leadership was still caught off guard.

They never expected the slap in the face they received from the voters — from their voters. From the people who refused to get up, go out, and vote.

The people of Iran, by not voting, by staying away from the ballot boxes, plain and simply rejected religious leadership of Iran.

This is not rocket science.

There was no other option.

There is no other safe way to protest in Iran other than distancing yourself from the voting process.

Protests and demonstrations can result in your arrest and the arrest of your family.

Organizing against the leadership or writing about them, especially on the internet and in social media, is a crime. Any critique of the regime is a crime.

Not voting, not a crime. At least, not yet.

Iran’s leadership rigged the election so that their cronies would receive a landslide victory voting. What the leadership did not do is rig the turnout. If they knew before the election what they know now, post election, they would have fabricated the numbers, too.

And I will guarantee that in four years time, during the next national parliamentary election cycle, Iranian leadership will not be embarrassed the way they were in 2020.

Four years from now, Iran’s leadership will either fudge the numbers or they will pass a law mandating that everyone must vote. They will pass a law making not voting a crime. They will impose a fine on those who do not vote.

The problem with that is that if everyone votes, leadership might lose. And then, in the end, they will also need to fix the election results. Not a big problem for Iran’s present day leadership.

Iranian leadership, of course, refuses to take any responsibility for the abysmally low voter turnout. The government and the Grand Ayatollah have offered a different reason.

The coronavirus.

Iranian leadership is claiming that enemies of Iran and enemies of Islam spread terrible rumors about the virus in Iran. Yes, in Iran like in most of the world, there is a fear of being in crowded places — like polling stations. And yes, in truth, until now, at least 50 Iranians have died from the virus. That is more than any other country outside of China.

But that’s not why Iran’s citizens didn’t turn out to vote.

Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern" a weekly TV program and "My Chopp" a daily radio spot. A dynamic speaker, he specializes in analyzing world events and evaluating their relevance and impact. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. To read more of this reports — Click Here Now.

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Yes, in Iran like in most of the world, there is a fear of being in crowded places, like polling stations. And yes, in truth, until now, at least 50 Iranians have died from the virus. That is more than any other country outside of China. That’s not why Iran’s citizens didn’t vote.
Thursday, 27 February 2020 02:52 PM
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