The tightly controlled process has led many Iranians to question the whole exercise. And institutions such as the Council of Guardians, which is controlled by Ayatollah Khamenei, have hampered democratic change and crippled the efforts of presidents who have attempted to introduce political and social freedoms. (Two presidential candidates in the 2009 race, Mehdi Karroubi and former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, who campaigned on a platform for democratic reforms, remain under house arrest. cracked down on massive protests in the wake of what was seen as a widely contested election.)
The election boycott campaign highlights growing levels of anger and apathy towards the regime, at a time when the economy suffers from the brunt of US sanctions, as well as mismanagement and corruption by Iranian officials. The government also badly botched the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving more than 82,000 dead so far. In addition, the regime has brutally cracked down on protests that have erupted since 2009, mainly due to deteriorating economic conditions.
Those boycotting the vote include a large group of people inside and outside Iran, many of whom were once sympathetic to the regime, such as former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mr. Mousavi and Faezeh Hashemi, the daughter. of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. . Last month, more than 230 prominent activists signed an open letter calling for a boycott of the elections and declared that their aim is to bring about “a non-violent transition from the Islamic Republic to the power of the people”.
Unsurprisingly, Ayatollah Khamenei called those pushing for a boycott as enemies and urged the Iranians to go to the polls. Herein lies the regime’s dilemma: Iranian leaders want just enough participation to legitimize Mr. Raisi’s victory, but not so much that the outcome could demonstrate just how unpopular he really is.
During his campaign trips in recent weeks, Mr. Raisi has sought to present himself as a man of the people and vowed to fight corruption. He spoke to people who approached him about the ongoing court cases, presenting himself as an approachable man. But his past at the head of the judiciary testifies to what could await him under his reign. Young activists were tried behind closed doors and executed. As a young religious, he signed the executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.
Boycotting the elections, for a deeply wounded population, is understandable. But sadly, a boycott this time around could cement extremists’ hold on power for many years to come.