Though a coalition of moderate conservatives and reformists allied with President Hassan Rouhani is on track to prevail in the parliamentary election held February 26, progressive Iranians and trade unionists got little reprieve from the repressive theocratic state in the run-up to the vote. In a move aimed at giving the upper hand to clerical forces, more than half of all nominated candidates were barred from running even before the first vote was cast. Trade union activists, meanwhile, experienced increased attacks in the weeks prior to balloting, with dozens arrested or sentenced on trumped-up national security and public order charges.
The most conservative religious elements backed by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, do not appear to have fared well in the elections. Their poor performance reflects the public’s dissatisfaction with the clerics’ efforts to sabotage recent progress made in easing international sanctions related to the country’s nuclear program. Though they rejected many of the candidates endorsed by the Ayatollah, Iranians were forced to choose from a radically pared down ballot. Mass disqualifications greatly narrowed the range of political options presented, leaving only a choice between Khamenei’s reactionary picks and moderate elements.
Of the 12,000 candidates who came forward to run for Iran’s parliament, the Majlis, it is reported that about 60 per cent were disqualified by the Council of Guardians, a constitutional panel made up of members selected by the Ayatollah. This stunningly high rejection rate was more than twice the average in previous elections, signaling the determination of the regime’s leaders to prevent dissident voices from making gains.
Before the vote, Khamenei had declared, “Those who are not for the Islamic Republic can vote, but they cannot be a candidate,” meaning that only those deemed loyal to the existing political system would be allowed to run. His declaration hit those affiliated with the loosely-termed “reformist” trend hardest, of course, with only 30 out of 3,000 candidates from the group being allowed to appear on the ballot.
Navid Shomali, the international secretary of the left-wing Tudeh Party of Iran, characterized the election as a battle between government factions. “The pre-requisite for candidacy was to express full loyalty to the current political regime,” he said. “The real struggle was between President Hassan Rouhani and his ally, parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani on the one hand, and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the other.”
“The fundamental rights of the people,” Shomali added, “cannot be realized in the frameworks set by the despotic regime and the absolute rule of the Supreme Leader.”
At the same time that the Guardian Council was putting the squeeze on candidate lists, the police and the courts were doing the same to the trade union movement. On the eve of the election, the International Trade Union Confederation and the International Transport Workers’ Federation issued protests against what they characterized as a wave of increased arrests of union leaders and activists. Coming so soon after the lifting of international sanctions and the exchange of prisoners with the United States, the new arrests and sentencing of domestic union leaders undermines the reformist image that the Iranian state has tried to present to the world.
Workers affiliated with the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (SWTSBC), a union long-known for its opposition to the government’s suppression of independent labor organizing, came under renewed attacks in recent weeks. Dahoud Razavi, a member of the SWTSBC board of directors, was sentenced on February 17 to five years’ imprisonment. He had been charged with “activities against national security and disturbing public peace and order by participating in an illegal gathering.” The vice-chairman of the union, Ebrahim Madadi, is currently on trial for similar charges.
Earlier in February, 28 workers at the Khatoon Abad Copper Mine were also arrested. Though they were subsequently released on bail, the solidarity organization, Committee for the Defense of the Iranian People’s Rights (CODIR), said in a statement that their arrests only added to “the air of intimidation and persecution which the Iranian government has created for trade unionists in the country.”
Need for unity underscored
Despite the imposition of an “engineered election” by the Guardian Council and the justice system’s offensive against the trade union movement, the left-wing Tudeh Party says that the economic situation in Iran will continue to drive forward the forces opposed to the clerical state.
“The future of our country is pregnant with major developments because the theocratic regime goes from one crisis to another,” the party stated on election day, “and its only means to deal with crises, i.e. suppression, can no longer be dressed as anything else but dictatorship.”
The party made clear that moving the country in a progressive direction will depend on the ability of social movements and political organizations to establish broad unity among all the forces – inside and outside the Majlis – that are committed to democracy and social justice.
Photo: Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei casts his ballot during parliamentary elections in Tehran. AP