What You Need To Know About The 2021 Presidential Elections in Iran
Will the 2021 Elections spur a turn in fortunes for the Islamic Republic of Iran, also called Persia, after years of unrest, or make things worse than they already are?
Iran - An Overview
Iran, officially known as the Islamic Republic of Iran, is a country in Western Asia and a part of the Middle East region of countries.
The country shares borders with:
With a population of over 84.9 million, it is also the 18th largest country in the world. It is one among the 21 nations that are a part of OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries).
The capital city of Tehran is also the largest and is known for its sprawling architecture.
The country is ethnically diverse, consisting of people from predominantly Persian backgrounds, but is also home to:
The country has constantly faced many economic hurdles, primarily due to isolation from the international community.
In particular, the USA has placed an embargo on Iranian petroleum products. The prohibition also prevents foreign investment in the country's petroleum industry, the sale of high-end technology to Iran, and the import of a wide variety of products.
The 2021 elections are scheduled to be held on the 18th of June and will have seven significant candidates battling for the post.
Many prominent figures applied when the registrations opened, and all candidates were subjected to a rigorous vetting process, first by the Ministry of Interior and then the Guardian Council.
The elections are widely considered to be far from 'free and fair' as the Guardian Council is said to prefer hardliner conservatives.
This bias becomes evident because this year's elections feature five high-profile hardliners and two low-profile centrists.
How is 2021 different?
Re-emergence of Conservatism
Since 1997, presidential elections have been largely antithetical, with contenders belonging to both hardline and reformist/centrist leanings. However, a recent directive from the Guardian Council practically barred most reformist or centrist candidates from even competing this year.
Iran's judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, who was also the runner-up in the previous elections of 2017, is the most well-known candidate, and according to a few nationwide polls, he is a favorite among the hardliners. His win could mean a rollback of whatever reforms took place in the country.
The economy of the country has always played a vital role in the Iranian elections. It is top on the list of the agendas of every candidate. Due to the unstable economic situation and the pandemic making an already precarious situation worse, Iran is now at one of its most critical junctures of history since the 1979 revolution.
It is currently undergoing one of the worst economic crises recorded in its history, with the inflation rate reaching a dire 50%.
Protests similar to those in November 2019 might erupt again if the hardliners come into power.
When the government arbitrarily increased the price of petrol then, thousands of people took to the streets in more than 100 cities in protest. According to Amnesty International, over 300 unarmed protesters were killed by security forces within a few days.
Protesters demanded the resignation of Iran's elite leaders and also the government. The protests would weaken the government leading to a volatile political situation.
Joe Biden said, "Iran should be allowed to choose their own leaders."
The current president aims to ease tensions caused by his predecessor, Donald Trump.
Still, with hardliners being the frontrunners of this race, all future endeavors that centrists have for the country would not have a chance to become a reality.
Some of these include crucial international policy decisions such as joining the FATF (Financial Action Task Force), repairing relations with Saudi Arabia, improving diplomatic ties with the US, and reducing aggression towards Israel.
All of which the hardliners consider pointless, a point-of-view that may lead to Iran's international relations worsening.
Iran's leaders need high turnout to prove that their political system is indeed legitimate.
This has been seriously challenged by the fact that all decisions must always be approved by their supreme leader, the Ayatollah, questioning the very nature of the democracy of the country.
Polls by the Iranian Students Polling Agency (ISPA) show a 7% drop in expected turnout, chalking up to a dismal 36% since the list of candidates was announced on the 20th of June. The hashtag "No Way I Vote" was trending on Persian social media almost right after.
In previous elections, however, a low voter turnout has usually given the hardliners the upper hand.
The race seems to be leaning towards hardliners this time too, and it could mean the end of a pretense of democracy in Iran and a dismantling of the country's foreign relations.
The hardliners would bring about, at best, a conservative way of life for Iranians, and at worst, a potential international crisis.
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Surabhi Paraki is a Journalism and Communications student at Jain University. She is also an activist and a content writer at the International Youths Organization for Peace and Sustainability.
Inputs and Edits by Sovena Ngeth.