Iran's parliamentary elections see lowest turnout since 1979 revolution

Iranians queue up to vote in parliamentary elections at the Shah Abdul Azim shrine on the southern outskirts of Tehran on February 21, 2020.
Iranians queue up to vote in parliamentary elections at the Shah Abdul Azim shrine on the southern outskirts of Tehran on February 21, 2020. © Atta Kenare, AFP

Voter turnout in Friday's parliamentary elections was 42.57%, the lowest since since the country's 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran’s interior ministry said on Sunday – another possible sign of widespread dissatisfaction with the leadership and the state of the economy.


In comparison, turnout was nearly 62% in the 2016 elections. Turnout has consistently been above 50% since the country's Islamic Revolution more than four decades ago. 

But voters had limited options on Friday's ballot, as more than 7,000 potential candidates had been disqualified, most of them reformists and moderates. Among those disqualified were 90 sitting members of Iran's 290-seat parliament who had wanted to run for re-election.

Iran's hard-liners won all 30 parliamentary seats in Tehran, state TV reported.

Iran's supreme leader and other senior officials had urged people to cast their ballots Friday as a show of resistance in the face of US sanctions that have plunged the economy into recession. 

Reporting from Tehran, FRANCE 24’s Reza Sayah said the Guardian Council's decision to bar around 90 sitting moderate or reformist lawmakers has led many Iranians to question whether Friday’s vote was a legitimate democratic exercise.

“Analysts say this apparent purge of reformists is an indication that Iran’s establishment is reshaping the government from one that was led by the moderates and reformists who wanted to open relations with the West, who wanted the [2015] nuclear deal, to one that now will be dominated by conservatives and hardliners who are going to take a much more firm stance against the US, implementing more anti-US policies, which doesn’t bode well for what’s left of the nuclear deal and improved relations with the West,” noted Sayah.

Iranians have seen the price of basic goods skyrocket, inflation and unemployment rise and the local currency plummet since US President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement and imposed tough sanctions.

Wary of the growing frustration on the streets, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had urged Iranians to vote.

Speaking to reporters shortly after he cast his ballot in Tehran Friday, Khamenei noted that, “Anyone who cares about Iran's national interests should participate in the election."

>> Read more: Moderates sidelined in Iran's elections

'People are not hopeful'

Turnout in Friday's elections is widely viewed as a critical test of the legitimacy of Iran's democratic process with the state unleashing all stops to encourage Iranians to vote.

On the eve of the elections, state media aired a short clip showing votes transforming into torpedoes hitting enemy navy ships closing in on Iran.

Hessameddin Ashena, a senior adviser to President Hassan Rouhani, warned on Twitter that abstention "increases (among other things) the possibility of a military aggression".

The Guardian Council said it expected at least 50 percent of registered voters to cast ballots.

Many voters, however, voiced disinterest.

"We voted for Mr Rouhani with a dream, and then we didn't achieve anything. So, in my opinion, people are not hopeful any more," said Mohammed, who spoke from his carpet shop and only gave one name.

"I honestly don't want to vote, because it won't fix our problems and is of no use, and this election is only a formality just so they can show to the world that they are chosen by the nation, while it is not so," said Pari Aghazadeh, a fashion designer.

Apart from the parliament, voters were also called upon to choose replacements for deceased members of the Assembly of Experts, a 88-strong clerical body that appoints and monitors the supreme leader.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

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