July 3, 2024 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1773

The Iranian Regime's Presidential Election Scam: The Regime Appears To Be Tripling The Turnout Figures – Actual Turnout Is 14%

July 3, 2024 | By A. Savyon*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1773


Following the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in a May 19, 2024 helicopter crash in northern Iran, presidential elections were held by the Iranian regime on Friday, June 28, 2024.

Since none of the candidates received more than 50% of the vote, a second round of voting will be held on Friday, July 5, 2024 between the two leading candidates: reformist Masoud Pezeshkian and extremist ideologue Saeed Jalili (see below for more details about the candidates).

According to the regime, voter turnout stood at 42% – low by any standard and comparable to the turnout for the 2024 Majlis elections (see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 11202, Iran Election 2024 – Part III: Khamenei And Regime Mouthpieces Tout 'Glorious' Elections With 41% Voter Turnout – But In 2001 Khamenei Called The 40% Turnout In The West 'Disgraceful,' Adding: 'It Is Obvious That Their People Do Not Trust Their Political System, That They Do Not Care About It, And That They Have No Hope', March 14, 2024).

"The Elections Circus"[1]: The Regime Seems To Have Tripled Voter Turnout Figures – Actual turnout Was 14%

Iranian X user "Hossein," a supporter of the "Woman, Life, Freedom" anti-hijab protest movement that emerged after the death of the young Kurdish woman Jinnah Mahsa Amini in police custody after her arrest for failing to wear her hijab properly, commented on the official election results. On X, he drew attention to the fact that the official turnout figures released by the regime for each of the four candidates in the first round are divisible by three. He calculated that the probability of this happening is less than 0.5%, and thus concluded that actual voter turnout was not the 42% claimed by the regime – also low, but comparable to the turnout for the Majlis elections in March 2024 – but a mere 14%. The extremely low probability of all the voter turnout figures happening to be divisible by three indicates that the official figures released by the regime were manipulated and tripled in order to conceal the fact that the regime has no public legitimacy.

It should be mentioned that the Iranian regime has a history of falsifying election turnout figures. The most notable example of this was in the 2009 presidential elections, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared president, with a turnout of 85%, in his run against the popular reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who was the personal rival of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. This sparked the "Green Protest," in which millions of Iranians took to the streets to demand a recount.

Hossein's post reads: "The likelihood that five [sic] random numbers would be divisible by three is less than 0.5%. The Islamic Republic tripled the number of votes."

Hossein also shared the official figures as published by the Tasnim news agency, which are as follows:

"Total votes: 24,535,185

"Total valid votes: 23,479,026

"Masoud Pezeshkian: 10,415,991

"Saeed Jalili: 9,473,298

"Mohammed Bagher Ghalibaf: 3,383,340

"Mustafa Pourmohammadi: 206,397"

Hossein's post. Source:, June 29, 2024.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei: "Iran's Pride And Honor Depend On The People's Participation [In The Elections]"

Iranian regime officials, led by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, launched a widescale media campaign appealing to Iranian citizens to go out to vote as an expression of faith in Iran's Islamic Revolution and in order to prove to Iran's enemies that the regime enjoys popular legitimacy.

Several days before the elections, Supreme Leader Khamenei stressed to the public: "Iran's pride and honor depend on the people's participation [in the elections]. I hope that Iranians will participate in this great privilege... Anybody who wants Iran to be strong must participate in the elections, and anybody who believes in the need to support the Islamic Republic of Iran must devote greater attention to this matter… Those who object even slightly to the Islamic Revolution or the Islamic regime are useless to you."

Khamenei even hinted that people should vote for candidates who are aligned with the regime's ideologies and who are not drawn after the West and America. He said: "Anyone who clings to the U.S. and imagines that nothing can be done in the country without any favors from it will not be a good partner [i.e. president] for you."[2]

The Kayhan daily, the regime mouthpiece, which lauded the elections as "democratic," published an article on June 27, the day before the elections, stating: "Voter turnout in Iran is among the highest in the entire world [and] the Islamic Republic [of Iran] is one of the clearest examples in the world of a religious democracy. Today there are elections taking place in many countries, but when comparing quality and quantity of elections in the world, we see that the Islamic Republic has significantly transcended the others...  If we compare voter turnout for the presidential elections in Iran to voter turnout in Western countries, we can draw the conclusion that the turnout in Iran is better than it is in the Western countries... Regardless of who wins in the elections this upcoming Friday, there are two great winners: The Iranian people and the Islamic Republic."

Addressing the intention expressed by many pro-reformist citizens to boycott the elections, because they felt that their votes would have no impact on the policy of the "elected" candidate, the Kayhan article said: "These elections will again humiliate [the reformists] who claim that the president's authority is limited. Over the recent years, [representatives of] this stream have risen to power several times. Yet every time, with lack of integrity and irresponsibly, they have claimed that the president has no authority and controlled by the 'parallel government'!"[3]

Screening The Candidates

It should be noted that of the six candidates who were initially screened and authorized by the regime committee responsible for the elections, only one – Masoud Pezeshkian – is considered a reformist. Pezeshkian, a former Majlis member and Minister of Health under Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, has called on the regime to recommit to the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal (which will expire in October 2025, making such a move unrealistic) and called also on the authorities to improve their relations with the West. He clarified that he would operate in accordance with the directives of Supreme Leader Khamenei (without such a declaration, his candidacy would never have been approved). He has enjoyed the support of two former presidents – Mohammed Khatami and Hassan Rouhani – and of former Iranian foreign minister Mohammed Javad-Zarif, all of whom aimed to spur disenchanted reformists to go out to the ballot box.

The other five candidates are ideological conservatives. Prominent among them are Saeed Jalili, who is beloved by and close to Khamenei, and current Majlis speaker Mohammed Bagher Ghalibaf.

Jalili, 59, serves as Khamenei's representative in the Supreme National Security Council and is a member of the Expediency Council. In the past, he served as the head of Iran's negotiating team in the nuclear talks. Between 2007 and 2013, he was secretary of the Supreme National Security Council until he was relieved of this position by President Rouhani. He ran for president in 2013 and came in third, with 11% of the votes (approximately 4.1 million votes). He also ran for president in 2021, but quit the race in order to facilitate a victory for Raisi. Jalili fought in the Iran-Iraq War, losing his right leg in the 1987 Siege of Basra, earning the title "living martyr." He has a doctorate degree in political science and teaches "Diplomacy of the Prophet Muhammad" at Imam Sadeq University.

Assessments And Conclusions Ahead Of Round Two: The President Is Mostly A Figurehead And Plays No Significant Role In The Regime

In the second round of the elections, the regime will attempt to transfer all the votes for the three losing conservative candidates to Jalili, who is Khamenei's associate. This will ensure that a representative reflecting the regime's anti-U.S. view will be elected and will follow in Raisi's footsteps.

To be clear, the Iranian president does not pursue any independent policy, and his primary role is limited to responsibility for domestic affairs, including dealing with issues such as economic distress, the housing crunch, the rising unemployment and cost of living, and the visibility of Islamic symbols in the public sphere, such as ensuring hijab wear among women, and more. Given the institutionalized corruption of the IRGC and other senior officials, and the ideological opposition to the importation and adoption of Western reforms, no Iranian president, whether reformist or ideologue, has the power to fix structural problems or to implement sweeping economic reform that will benefit the citizens. Additionally, it should be emphasized that Iran's nuclear program and nuclear policy are not handled by the president alone, since they are a national enterprise administered by Khamenei, who supervises it along with the Supreme National Security Council and other senior Iranian leaders.

In the early 2000s, Khamenei established an orderly process to systematically disqualify any representatives of the reformist stream from candidacy for public office, thus preventing reformists from gaining political representation, from the municipal level on up to the Majlis and the presidency. He also banned reformist activity, including newspapers and women's organizations. (See Appendix for MEMRI reports on election fraud in Iran.)

Turnout For Iranian Presidential Elections

The following table shows the official figures for voter turnout for presidential elections from 2001 to the present:

It should also be emphasized that Khamenei and the Iranian leadership have made wise use of Iranian presidents who are perceived as moderates by the West – for example, Mohammad Khatami and Hassan Rouhani – in order to benefit the regime and its goals, while at home these presidents are blamed for all of Iran's economic and social ills. The only president who presented an ideological challenge to Khamenei and called for a specific transformation in the regime's attitude vis-à-vis the U.S. and criticized Iran's oppression of its citizens was Hashemi Rafsanjani. Rafsanjani, Iran's first president, was the right-hand man of the founder of the Islamic regime in Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and it was he who brought Khamenei into power as the Supreme Leader. He was assassinated in 2017, apparently by associates of Khamenei in the IRGC, for challenging Khamenei. Also, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statements following his second presidential win in 2009, i.e. that he had a connection to the Hidden Imam, the Shi'ite Messiah – constituted a direct challenge to Khamenei's role as the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, and led to his exclusion from any decision-making process during and after his presidency.

It appears that at this time the regime is making a calculated move to ensure the election of a president that it desires. While Jalili is not a hugely popular figure because of his rigidly ideological views (see above for the statistics from past elections), it is likely that the public is more supportive of reformists than of ideologues. Additionally, many young Iranians oppose the regime, and many of these have in recent years boycotted elections and refused to participate in the political game, since they realize that how they vote has no impact on regime policy.

Thus, if the regime tripled the election results in the first round of voting because it fears being publicly perceived as illegitimate if turnout was apparently only 14%, then it cannot present Jalili as the victor.  A second round of voting between the rigid ideologue Jalili and the regime-approved Pezeshkian will allow the regime to present Jalili as having won a majority of the ideological conservative votes, assuming that voter turnout is the same as in the first round. If, however, many reformists and young people turn out en masse to vote in this round – which did not happen in the first round– and they cast their ballots for Pezeshkian – the regime may be hesitant to declare Jalili as the winner, due to its fear of protests like the Green Movement that followed the 2009 election fraud.

Thus, the conclusions about the first round of voting in Iran's presidential elections are:

1. The continued rule of the Iranian regime has no public legitimacy.

2. The choice of most Iranian citizens, who are largely young and reformist, is clear: not voting – i.e. boycotting the elections. This reflects their reluctance to play the game of the Iranian regime led by Khamenei – i.e. to pretend that the citizens have a genuine option to vote for either hardline revolutionary conservatives or pro-West moderates – which is what the regime is trying to present to the public at home and to the international community. In effect, Iranian citizens' refusal to participate in the regime's institutions indicates that there is an understanding in Iranian society that the people have no real choice between two ostensibly different options for how the regime will operate.  

3. At this point, the international community is collaborating in the Iranian regime's charade of democracy, instead of supporting the Iranian citizens who are no longer collaborating and who have exposed it by refusing to participate in the election sham.

* Ayelet Savyon is director of the MEMRI Iran Media Studies Project.

APPENDIX: MEMRI Reports On Staged Elections In Iran Over The Years

The following reports present examples of the engineering of elections in Iran in past years, along with regime processes to establish the foundation of the regime as the IRGC, which Khamenei sees as infrastructure loyal to the regime and as preventing the reformists from gaining a toehold in it, and the strengthening of the trend of election boycotts by pro-reformist elements in Iran:

Iran Election 2024 – Part II: The Disqualification Of Former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's Candidacy For The Assembly Of Experts, February 2024  

The Recurring Scam Of Allegedly Democratic Elections In Iran: The 11th Majlis Elections – A Continuation Of Khamenei's Dictatorship Through His Councils – February 2020

Iranian Pragmatic Camp Leaders Protest Against Regime's Mass Disqualification Of Thousands Of Pragmatic Camp Candidates For February 2016 Majlis Elections – January 2016

Iranian Presidential Elections – Part III: The Guardian Council's Disqualification Of Candidates – June 2013

Iranian Presidential Elections – Part II: Which Candidates Will The Regime Thwart? Supreme Leader Khamenei vs. His Rivals – Rafsanjani And Ahmadinejad – May 2013

Iran's Ninth Majlis Elections: A Show with Pre-Determined Results – March 2012

Power Struggle in Iran – Part IV: Staged Majlis Elections, Elimination of Reformist Political Representation, Abolition of 'Rule of the Jurisprudent' – April 2008

The Upcoming Presidential Elections in Iran (Part II) – June 2005

Iran's 'Second Islamic Revolution': Fulfilled by Election of Conservative President – June 2005

The Political Debate in Iran Following Elections for the Seventh Majlis – May 2004

Iran After Khatami's Re-election: Caught Between The Conservatives And The Reformists – August 2001


[1] Notably, the most popular hashtag among Iranian social media users concerning the elections is "elections circus."

[2] Tasnim News Agency (Iran), June 25, 2024.

[3] Kayhan (Iran), June 27, 2024.

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