February 19, 2020 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1502

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

February 19, 2020 | By A. Savyon, M. Manzour, and M. Abraham*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1502


The Iranian regime is gearing up for the elections for the 11th Majlis, which are set for Friday, February 21, 2020. The regime takes pride in the fact that these will be the 37th elections since the establishment of the Islamic regime in the country in 1979. It also prides itself on the high voter turnout – averaging 65% – for the elections for elected bodies – the Majlis, the presidency, and the local councils – that it diligently holds every four years.

However, while disguising itself as a democracy based on the people's votes, the regime in fact retains absolute and dictatorial control by means of its councils – Guardian Council, Assembly of Experts, and Expediency Council – that are appointed by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The Guardian Council has the authority to disqualify any candidates deemed undesirable by the regime, and rejects thousands in the run-up to every presidential or Majlis election on various pretexts[1] (see Appendix: MEMRI Reports On Iran's Presidential And Majlis Elections, MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6282, Iranian Pragmatic Camp Leaders Protest Against Regime's Mass Disqualification Of Thousands Of Pragmatic Camp Candidates For February 2016 Majlis Elections, January 28, 2016).

Indeed, the Guardian Council has even disqualified figures as prominent as Hashemi Rafsanjani. Rafsanjani, former Expediency Council secretary, veteran Assembly of Experts member, president of Iran from 1989 to 1997, leader of the pragmatic camp, and right-hand man of Islamic Revolution founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was disqualified as a presidential candidate in 2013. He had criticized Khamenei's policy and fought for a different approach, but the reason given for his disqualification was his advanced age.

For these upcoming Majlis elections, the Guardian Council has rejected thousands of candidates identified as reformists or moderate conservatives – about 60% of the candidates and including all current Majlis members affiliated with these camps. This is a continuation of the sweeping disqualification of reformist and moderate conservatives, such as today's supporters of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and, in the past, supporters of Rafsanjani, supporters of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who were labelled "the deviant stream," and anyone else who might threaten Khamenei and his grip on the regime.

As in all Iranian elections, the mass disqualification of 60% of reformist and moderate candidates has enraged their respective circles. President Rouhani publicly expressed harsh criticism of the Guardian Council's authority to widely reject these candidates, and his statements angered ideological circles. These circles argued that those disqualified, including current Majlis members, had been involved in financial corruption but that candidates from all camps, even lesser-known ones, had been approved. Senior regime officials, headed by Khamenei and Rouhani themselves, appealed to the public to vote as a religious and national duty.

Criticism of the mass disqualification of candidates again exposed the struggle over the essence of Iran's Islamic regime, and specifically the essence of the Majlis. Khamenei exhorted the public to vote for a "strong Majlis" that can speak against the U.S." and "for believing, courageous, effective, obedient, motivated [candidates] loyal to Islam." He added: "Anyone who fears speaking out against a certain foreign power [i.e. the U.S.] is not fit to represent the honorable, mighty, and brave Iranian public."

In effect, the ideological circles have assigned the Majlis the role of a rubber stamp – that is, to be a body that outwardly expresses the regime's ideology of hostility to the West, particularly the U.S. At home, the Majlis should, according to them, criticize measures taken by the Rouhani government with regard to the country's economy – every time the government does not follow Khamenei's recommendations for a "resistance economy"[2] which is incompatible with today's global economy.

In contrast, Iran's moderate and reformist circles seek, at most, to continue the show of democratic representation in which election outcomes mean little because even if moderate or reformist Majlis members criticize the regime or its institutions – as happened following the regime's brutal suppressions of the 2019 fuel protests – they can take no real action. This is because all legislation must be approved by the councils, whose members are appointed by Khamenei, for compatibility with Islamic law. These Majlis members are also disqualified in subsequent elections, as has happened to every moderate and reformist Majlis member who sought to run for reelection.

It should be noted that as election day neared, President Rouhani called for a referendum aimed at restricting the Guardian Council's power to disqualify candidates. This call – which in any case has no chance because it is against the authority of Khamenei, who appoints the members of the councils – is meaningless and in any case irrelevant for these Majlis elections, which will be held according to the old dictatorial formula; this will be addressed in a subsequent MEMRI report.

This report will present recent public statements about the disqualifications in advance of the elections for the Majlis and will examine reformist and regime reactions and regime activity to secure high voter turnout:

Part I: Moderates And Reformists Criticize Sweeping Disqualification  Of Candidates

Speakers in this camp presented a range of positions. They included the demand that the show of an election must be maintained by allowing the public to vote for disqualified candidates, the arguments that the disqualification prevents any real competition and that it contradicts the principle of a free election, and the assertion that there is no point in running for Majlis seats because even if elected the member is impotent and subject to the power of the bodies controlling the Majlis.

Rouhani To Khamenei And The Guardian Council: Damaging The Regime's Foundation As A Republic Also Damages Its Islamic Foundation

President Hassan Rouhani criticized Khamenei and the Guardian Council for the mass disqualification of reformist and moderate candidates, saying that this prevents a proper election by Iran's people. Speaking at a meeting of Iran's provincial governments on January 27, 2020, Rouhani cautioned against a return to the election practices that were once customary under the rule of the Shah, prior to the Islamic Revolution, when the Shah's regime selected the people's representatives for the Majlis in advance.

On February 2, 2020, during a visit to the tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini, Rouhani subtly warned Khamenei and his councils that they are straying from Khomeini's legacy and causing damage to the republican aspect of the regime, contradicting its very name: The Islamic Republic. Not allowing the public to elect a representative from a range of candidates and positions, he said, is damaging, and ultimately discourages voting altogether, since voting is rendered meaningless when all candidates are selected by the regime and do not represent the will of the people.

After being harshly criticized by Khamenei and his ideological supporters, Rouhani spoke on February 11, the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, imploring the public to vote and not boycott the elections. The following are the main points from Rouhani's statements at these events.

Rouhani At Meeting of Iran's Provincial Governors, January 27, 2020

At this meeting, Rouhani cautioned against discarding the appearance of a democratic election by allowing the regime to pre-select a candidate. He said: "It is God's command that we be masters of our own fate, and no one can sever that. The biggest threat to our democracy and national sovereignty is a day when elections are only a formality – a situation in which the election of officials will be determined elsewhere, while those in charge view the public voting as nothing more than a ritual. I hope this day never happens in our country. During the previous regime [under the Shah], it was determined in Tehran who would be elected, and though the public voted as they pleased, at the end of the election, the name of the candidate pre-selected by Tehran was always revealed at the polling places.

"After the Islamic Revolution, it was no longer Tehran's choice. The people now decide, and they vote for the candidate they choose. It is very important that the people feel they are choosing from a range of candidates. Voter turnout is the people's enduring strength. We must not forget to remain united when trouble comes. On election day, we must act together.

"[Statements like] 'I don't want to vote for this or that reason' or 'I have no trust in going to vote' [create] a very dangerous situation. We have to promise the people that ours is not a one-party regime. We have several free political parties.

"This day, everyone must visit the polling place, even if they have complaints. They must not boycott the polls. I only ask that on election day, February 21, an historic day... nothing will happen to make the lines at the polling places be empty. Everyone should ensure that the election is competitive, and that [supporters of] all parties go to vote. We must follow the law.

"We need there to be security during the elections, as in previous years. If we need to approve two or five candidates, we must prevent conflicts. Those people [alluding to Khamenei's ideologues] who say in their private meetings that they will control 100% of the Majlis – they will indeed control it. If they do, they must ensure free competition and partisanship [among the public.] If they win the Majlis, so be it. We must ensure a healthy election and voter turnout. We want the election to have a maximum of votes.

Rouhani At Tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini, February 2, 2020

At the tomb, Rouhani said: "The elections in the early days of the constitution[3] were a popular vote, and slowly became an election for the supporters of the Shah, leading to elections [that were more like] theater productions. Everyone knew in advance who would end up in the Majlis... That's why the Imam [Ayatollah Khomeini] came to the conclusion that democracy cannot exist alongside monarchy and dictatorship. Some people suggested to the Imam that he preserve a constitutional regime with a weakened Shah, or without a Shah, or that he establish a regime modeled on an Islamic caliphate.

"But the Imam rejected these [proposals] and instead chose to establish the Islamic Republic. The Imam is not just the father of Islam in the history of our nation, but also the father of republicanism. A republic without religion and Islam will not last [as such] and will become a dictatorship. That's why the Imam insisted on an Islamic Republic – those exact words. The Imam intended this to be a government based in Islam that is also ruled by its people. The Imam knew that justice, social reform, and growth cannot take place without the people going out to vote... The Imam emphasized the public's right to vote; therefore, anyone who prevents the public from being able to choose from an array of candidates, or discourages the people from voting, has clearly diverged from the path set by the Imam."[4]

Rouhani On Revolution Day, February 11, 2020

On Revolution Day, February 11, Rouhani spoke in Tehran, saying: "Weakening the republic [element in Iran's regime] will not strengthen the Islamic element. Republicanism and Islamism go together' it must not be one or the other... Dear people, choice and the power of choice are among our highest national and religious values. We are capable of choosing the best of two paths. Choice is one the greatest triumphs of the Islamic Revolution. It is possible that this election will the subject of criticism and complaints. That is all right, you are free to criticize... But I ask that you not be passive. We must not boycott the polls due to this or that step or action. Elections and polling places are our saviors."[5]

Reformist Intellectual Sadegh Zibakalam: Disqualifying Candidates Is At Odds With The Principles Of A Free Election

Intellectual and reformist professor Sadegh Zibakalam tweeted his critique of the regime and the Guardian Council's decision to disqualify candidates on January 28, 2020. He wrote: "Disqualifying 90 people in the current Majlis for what the Guardian Council calls 'financial corruption' means that four years ago, these people didn't have this problem, but after four years serving in the Majlis [they became corrupt]. Therefore the Majlis is an organization that financially corrupts its members. This is another one of America's crimes."

Zibakalam's tweet, January 28, 2020.

On February 9, 2020, Zibakalam tweeted: "Disqualifying the candidates leaves no doubt about what motivates the Guardian Council. Even if we ignore reality and assume the purpose of the disqualifications is not to settle political scores but to serve the public, the very idea of approving the qualification of candidates is at odds with the fundamental principle of a free election."

Zibakalam's tweet, February 9, 2020.

Ali Heshmatian Kodrat Ali, Chairman Of The Pragmatist And Independent Front: The Elections Are Not Competitive

Ali Heshmatian Kodrat Ali, chairman of Iran's Pragmatist and Independent Front, protested against the mass disqualification of pragmatist and reform candidates, saying on January 29, 2020:

"We expected most of the seats in the 11th Majlis to go to Pragmatist and Independent candidates, but most of our candidates were disqualified... According to reports from across the country, of Iran's 5,200 qualified candidates, more than 4,200 are ideologues, 300 are pragmatists, and 700 are reformists. This means that unless the Guardian Council reconsiders the issue of qualified candidates, there will be no competition in this election... Independents and pragmatists will participate in the election, but we protest against the sweeping disqualification of our candidates. If this continues, we will not be able to submit a candidate list in Tehran and other provinces.[6]

Former Government Spokesman Reformist Abdollah Ramezanzadeh: Even If A Reformist Majlis Is Elected, It Will Have No Influence

On January 29, 2020, reformist and former government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh tweeted about the pointlessness of running for office in the regime's sham elections, since Majlis members have no real power to legislate for the public's benefit. He wrote:

"Reformist friends who seek approval to run for election[:] Imagine that all 290 Majlis members were elected from among your candidates. Do you believe you will have a say in legislation when there are bodies like the Guardian Council, the committee for general policy [of the Expediency Council], the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, and the Supreme National Security Council, and the Cyber Council, and the Council of the Heads of the Judiciary, Majlis, and Government."[7]

Ramezanzadeh's tweet, January 29, 2020.

Reformist Former Minister Tajzade: The Regime Builds False Cases Against Legislators To Stop Them From Criticizing The Guardian Council

Mostafa Tajzade, a leading reformist who served as minister under reformist president Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005), served in the Majlis, and was also a political prisoner, tweeted a sharp critique on February 4, 2020, saying that the regime builds false legal cases against members of the Majlis to prevent them from criticizing the Guardian Council. He wrote:

"In the second phase of the revolution, not only are seekers of democracy erased from organizations and from running for office, but false legal cases are built against [political] activists like Parvaneh Salahshouri,[8] making it impossible for seekers of freedom and justice to criticize members of the Guardian Council safely and without consequence. #EndOfTheRepublic"

Tajzade's tweet, February 4, 2020.

Part II: Ideologues Respond: This Is A Clean Election; Disqualified Reformists Were Corrupt; Anyone Who Doubts The Election Process And The Guardian Council Is In The Enemy Camp

Supreme Leader Khamenei: Elections Are A Public Jihad And Make The Country Stronger

Speaking before thousands on February 5, in advance of Revolution Day, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei criticized President Rouhani. He said that Rouhani's assertions that the results of the elections are engineered in advance and Majlis members are pre-appointed are seized on by the enemy, cause despair amongst the people, and lead to boycotting the election. Khamenei said:

"The Islamic regime is not just democratic. It is religious. Therefore Iran's democracy is a religious democracy... These elections are a great opportunity for the country and the people and pose a threat to its enemies. Holding this election with the full participation and support of the public at the polling places will ensure national security, because our enemies fear the public's support for the regime more than they fear its military might. The country has problems... But the public will nevertheless come out [to vote] because an election is about the regime's image and national security. The elections are also important in solving our international problems...

"The presidential and Majlis elections are an opportunity for new ideas and methods to become part of the circle of decision-makers in this country. When the public elects worthy people, new paths and solutions will develop in solving national and public issues. Overall, elections are the most principle-based issue in the country. The economy, culture, scientific progress, etc. are all very important, but they all have a basis in the issue of the election. This is because when an election is carried out in a strong and correct manner, all the problems will eventually be resolved.

"It is regrettable that incendiary statements were made about this election When elections are so important, and have such broad influence across all areas, one must not minimize their importance by raising a storm, making various despairing statements. It is only natural that the enemies of Iran make a concentrated effort to present the elections as a flawed system...

"Speakers who have a platform [referring to President Rouhani] and who hold status with the media and cyberspace must not be allowed to make statements that can be used and inflated by the enemy to make the public despair. The elections in Iran are actually the most healthy elections in the world. When they cause a provocation, lie, and say the upcoming elections are fixed, or that candidates are not elected but appointed [like Rouhani said], the public despairs.

"I am amazed at statements by some people [Rouhani] who reached a particular status thanks to elections but [nonetheless] question them. How can it happen that when the elections end up in their favor they are fair and legal, and when they do not end in their favor they are tainted? In elections for the Majlis, people have often sent me letters and reports on fraud. Following this, I appointed a delegation to closely examine the matter, and it transpired that these reports and letters were wrong. 

"We cannot complain about the enemy, but a certain author, a cyber activist, a Majlis member, and an important government official [i.e. Rouhani] should take care not to create a situation in which we tell the public to vote while at the same time [things are] said mistakenly so that the public despairs of voting. 

"Attacks on the Guardian Council are very wrong... How is it possible to so easily say that this council's members are deliberately acting to the detriment of some of the people?

"In my recent statements in Friday prayers, I pointed out the need for strengthening Iran in light of the merciless and powerful international enemies. A strong Majlis is one of the traits of strengthening Iran, and the establishment of a strong Majlis depends on high voter turnout... 

"Perhaps there are people who do not love me. But if they love Iran they must come vote. Therefore, everyone who loves Iran, its security, and solving its problems must come vote. Those who are believers and revolutionaries will be strongly motivated to vote. Those not motivated by religion or the revolution but love the dear homeland must come vote. Vote for believing, revolutionary, courageous people who have the spirit of jihad, are highly functional, and truly love justice, for the Majlis. Anyone who fears speaking out against a certain foreign power [i.e. the U.S.] is not fit to represent the honorable, mighty, and brave Iranian public... Elect people who will raise the flag of justice in the country, including economic, judicial, and political justice. The public must identify people with these traits and vote for them. If the public does not identify such people, they must avail themselves of the guidance and counsel of wise and credible people. Therefore, no one must say that he is not voting because he is not familiar with the candidates. Everyone must set out with faith in God to vote."[9]

Khamenei In Tabriz, February 18

In a speech to the residents of Tabriz on February 18, Khamenei reiterated: "The elections are a public jihad and what causes the strengthening of the country. They are the image of the Islamic regime. An extensive and enthusiastic public presence at the polls will lead, with God's help, to far-reaching blessings and impact in country... The Majlis elections will again prove that the public stands with and supports the Islamic regime... The elections neutralize many of the evil intentions of the Americans and the Zionists... The only way to cause the enemies to despair is to strengthen Iran, and one of the symbols of a strong Iran is a strong Majlis. A Majlis that passes necessary laws and steers the governments in the correct direction gives the country immunity. One of the foundations of a strong Majlis is maximum voter turnout... Elections and voting are religious, national, and revolutionary obligations...

"Vote for believing, courageous, effective, obedient, motivated representatives loyal to Islam, to the public, to the revolution, and to the state, who are firm in the face of the enemy and who detest greed. The public must be very careful about electing representatives because we suffered during the revolutionary era from representatives who are currently the slaves and handmaidens of America and of Iran's enemies...

"An individual who cannot stand up to the enemy and has no self confidence in the face of the enemy is not fit to represent the Iranian people... All lovers of Islam, the revolution, the Islamic regime, and Iran must vote in the elections and must vote correctly and well... The elections are the arena for a divine test. I hope that the Iranian people will emerge from this test with head held high..."[10]

Guardian Council Chairman Ayatollah Jannati: "We Successfully Repelled The Majlis Members Who Corrupted The Majlis"; There Is No Possibility Of Election Fraud

Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, chairman of the Guardian Council and Assembly of Experts, said at a February 5 Guardian Council meeting: "The time for dealing with the candidates' complaints is over. We have had a sensitive and intensive week, in which we handled all the candidates' complaints. We have devoted all our attention in order to examine the candidates' suitability according to the election law and to approve their candidacy. This is because without attention to this matter, an unfit individual can become a Majlis member and we won't be able to do a thing.

"Unfortunately, the Majlis's internal oversight is not as effective as it should be. The candidacies of over 7,000 people from various political strata, and independents, have been approved.  With such a large number of candidates, God willing, the upcoming elections will be as healthy and competitive as past elections were... The Guardian Council has always protected the public elections and has never allowed the republicans of the regime and the right of the public to be trampled. It is the same for this round, and the oversight of the Guardian Council will continue until the final stage of the elections and the approval of the election results... All those in charge, and those in charge of the elections, must refrain from making provocative statements on this matter."[11]

Guardian Council and Assembly of Experts chairman Mehdi Taeb (Source: Mehr, Iran, February 5, 2020)

At the February 11 Revolution Day parade, Ayatollah Jannati issued guidelines for who should be elected: "Vote for people who have tasted hunger, who feel the pain of the public, who help the needy, and who do not think of their own pockets when they sit in the Majlis. Vote for those who are concerned about the public, and for people who speak the truth. If you see that the candidates are liars, do not vote for them. In [our] examination of the candidates, we successfully repelled the Majlis members who became corrupt in the Majlis [i.e. the reformists and the moderates], and we were left with those who did not become corrupted [the ideologues]..."[12]

The following day, on February 12, 2020, Jannati said that the elections allow competition and are safe from fraud: "The public and those in charge must make every effort to keep the values and underpinnings of the revolution from being weakened... The 2020 Majlis election is very important, because the enemies want to cause the public to boycott them. The public and all those in charge must make every effort to increase voter turnout and discourage the enemy... The Guardian Council will ensure clean elections and a clean public voting [process] until the final results are announced, and will not allow anyone to interfere in the public's vote...

"In contrast to some false statements [that have been made], the upcoming elections are fully open to competition, and all factions are represented in them. According to reports, there is good rivalry among the candidates... Those in charge of holding the elections, and the [official] observers, must be careful not to show support for any specific candidate or faction during the elections. Government institutions must not abuse state funds [by using them] to support the factions [close to them]... The public believes in clean elections. Healthy elections have been taking place in this country for 40 years, and [election] fraud is impossible..."[13]

Judiciary Head Raisi: Anyone Who Questions The Election Process Is Part Of The Enemy Camp

In a February 6 speech in Bushehr, Judiciary head Ebrahim Raisi castigated President Rouhani, saying that "anyone who questions the [validity of] the election process – for whatever reason or motivation – is part of the enemy camp." He continued: "Only those who understand the public's needs and are willing to give their lives in order to meet these needs can be called wise and responsible... The elections are very important. Anyone who cares about the regime and the people's honor must fulfill his duty in the arena of the elections. Anyone who questions the election process, whether deliberately or by accident, weakens it and places himself in the enemy camp, for the enemy's strategy is likewise to discourage the people [by sowing doubt] regarding the achievements of the regime..."[14] 

Judiciary head Raisi (Source: Mehr, Iran, February 6, 2020)

Majlis National Security And Foreign Policy Committee Chairman Mojtaba Zolnour: Rouhani's Claim That Candidates Are Appointed Is Tantamount To A Call To Boycott The Elections; He Is Acting Against The Regime And The Public

In a February 10 interview with the IRGC-affiliated Mehr news agency, Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee head Mojtaba Zolnour likewise criticized Rouhani, claiming that he is acting against the regime: "Unfortunately, Rouhani has not kept his promises to the public. He did not have the strength to run the country and he neglected many issues [that are important for] the country... This has caused the country serious damage. Not only did Rouhani's ideas and promises fail to materialize, he has not managed to run the country well, in the domestic or foreign arenas.... The public has realized that it would be better to have no government at all and that the public [itself] would run the country...

"The Rouhani government's poor management has created many problems in the domestic and international arena. That is why the public is complaining about the economy and [people's] livelihoods, and Rouhani is directing [their complaints] to the wrong address in order to justify these faults. He claims that the root of all the country's problems lies abroad, and seeks the solution to all of the problems in America and Europe. But this is false, and he is misleading others.

"They are [also] giving the public the wrong address when it comes to domestic matters, by claiming that the root of the problem is the Guardian Council and its disqualification of candidates, when [actually] the vetting of candidates began only a month ago. The public's economic problems started six years ago, when Rouhani entered office.

"Rouhani is misleading the public regarding the country's problems. Yet at the same time he calls on the public to vote. We should notice that even when Rouhani urges the public to vote, his true goal is to discourage voting. When he says that 'the public must not boycott the polls,' he gives people [the idea of] boycotting them, thereby distancing himself from the regime... He creates a rift in the regime and promotes [the idea of] the public's failure to vote in the guise of urging it to vote. Statements such as 'these elections are really appointments and are a show' have a negative impact on public opinion.

"Mr. Rouhani, if you [really] have a problem with [how] Majlis candidates are approved, and you want to support the public and the candidates, why didn't you protest against the disqualification of presidential candidates [in the 2013 presidential elections], when [you were one of] only five out of 1,600 candidates who were approved, and you had the best chance of victory? Khamenei said, 'Some people are lying and saying that the elections are [effectively] appointments, but when this worked in their favor, they remained silent.' I think Khamenei was referring to Rouhani, [who kept silent] when he himself was a presidential candidate.

"In the 2020 Majlis elections, over 50% of the [candidates] who registered were approved. As of today, 30 people are running for every Majlis seat, but in the presidential election only five people ran for the presidency. Rouhani's statements are the epitome of ingratitude and impiety. They attribute lies to the regime. With this deception, Rouhani seeks to divert the public's critical gaze away from himself and towards the Guardian Council. He seeks to make the council a target of criticism. He seeks to sow schism and dissent, but the public is well aware of the difference between righteousness and hypocrisy and between truth and lies. Everyone knows how popular [Rouhani] is with the public and how much influence his statements have."[15]     

Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee head Mojtaba Zolnour (Source: Mehr, Iran, February 10, 2020)

Expediency Council Member And Islamic Coalition Party Head Mostafa Mir-Salim: Rouhani's Statements Are An Affront To The Public; The Guardian Council Has 39 Years Of Experience In Vetting Candidates

Mostafa Mir-Salim, Expediency Council member and chairman of the Islamic Coalition Party, said on February 2: "Rouhani's recent assertion that the [2020] elections are nothing but a show is a flagrant affront to the public... In the 40 years since the [1979 Islamic] Revolution, over 40 elections have been held [in Iran]. Which of them were a show? Who can make such a claim?... [Rouhani and his government] talk this way because they have failed at their job. They should be asked what they are trying to hide. Everyone knows what their performance has been like these past six and a half years. What are you trying to hide[?]...

"In response to the pressure exerted on the Guardian Council by the reformists and some supporters of the government, and their criticism of the Guardian Council, we must note one thing: The Guardian Council has 39 years of experience in vetting candidates. It disqualified some candidates based on evidence, and if it wants to, it can reveal this evidence..."[16]  

Majlis Member And Member Of Majlis Khamenei Loyalists Committee Fajiman-Far: The Disqualifications In These Elections Are No More Numerous Than In The Previous Elections

Hujjat Al-Islam Nasrallah Fajiman-Far, a Majlis member and member of the Majlis committee of Khamenei loyalists, said on January 29: "The  politicians disqualified by the Guardian Council from the Majlis election have recently attacked the council [only] because they are angry at it for carrying out its legal role. Even had they not been disqualified, they wouldn't have been elected, because of their various [crimes of] financial corruption. The number of disqualified candidates in this round is not greater than their number in the previous round, but the disqualified candidates, and some government departments, are attacking the Guardian Council and blaming it for their own faults and covering up their poor performance. They want to say that their disqualification is the only thing keeping them from entering the future Majlis and government, but in the next elections, the public will vote these people and their way of thinking out of the country [sic]. These elections are the last chance for the people to do this."[17]    

Kayhan Daily: The Reformists Are Attacking The Regime To Discourage The Public From Voting – Which Plays Into The Hands Of The Regime's Enemies

The Kayhan daily, the mouthpiece of Iran's ideological circles, attacked the reformists who protested against their disqualification by the Guardian Council. It wrote on February 3: "The reformists carried out an unprecedented attack on the Guardian Council. Characters like [Majlis members] Ali Reza Rahimi, Mahmoud Vaezi, Mahmoud Sadeghi Esmail Garami Moqadim, Parvaneh Salahshouri, and their ilk tried to say that the Guardian Council had blocked the way to an imaginary reformist victory. [They] directed accusations at the Guardians Council and made [various] claims, such as 'in order to determine their eligibility, they were required [to present] a receipt proving they had paid the khums [an Islamic tax of one-fifth of an individual's income],' or 'that they had been disqualified for supporting the [U.S.] administration or the nuclear deal'! [Other claims were that] 'intermediaries often raised [the bribe] for approval to four billion toman,' that 'the Guardian Council speaker is lying,' that 'as long as the Guardian Council exists, nothing can be done,' etc... [The reformists] are also trying to... [claim that the Majlis elections are] a 'show' or that 'candidates are being appointed in advance.'"[18]   

Kayhan February 6 Editorial

In its February 6 editorial, Kayhan criticized "those who singled out the Guardian Council and did not spare any insult [against it]... They claim that in order [for their candidacy] to be approved, they had to [present] receipts for their khums payments. Another one claimed that he was disqualified because he is related to another politician, and lately [some of them] have argued interestingly that they were disqualified due to their patchy Friday mosque attendance... On the one hand, the reformists attack the pillars of the regime, and on the other they take over [positions] of power [in the Majlis] and are completely unwilling to relinquish them...

"[Perhaps] it would be better if you revealed your [real] mission to yourselves and the public once and for all? If the Iranian regime was committing election fraud, how could you have been in the Majlis for such a long time? Such positions and actions can only discourage the people [from voting], which serves Iran's enemies, including America."[19]

Javan Daily: Rouhani Knows That Most Of The Disqualified Candidates Were Corrupted By His Government

The Javan daily likewise criticized Rouhani's January 27 statements. It wrote: "Rouhani spoke to the governors as though he were an oppositionist without access to power. He compared the [current] Iranian elections to the elections in the Shah's era, when municipal council members were selected by Tehran. Rouhani knows perfectly well that over 55% of the candidates who were disqualified belong to the camp that does not support the government. Why can't he accept that proportion?... He knows very well that over 80% of the candidates who were disqualified were corrupted by parts of [his] government... When he says that 'the people need to be certain that nobody is either adding [votes] to their votes or subtracting from them,' he is chopping off the branch on which he is sitting. He is accusing his own Interior Ministry of padding or downgrading the people's votes, and if we believe what he says, those in charge of holding the elections [i.e. the Interior Ministry] must be replaced immediately.

"Democracy is the only way to restore the people's faith. The government must consider that resolving the issues is more important than alleviating the pressures on it. The Islamic regime has proved over these last 40 years that it does not capitulate to those who make noise."[20]

IRGC Political Bureau Director Javani: Is It Conceivable For There To Be A Non-Revolutionary Majlis – And For The IRGC To Remain Indifferent?

On February 12, 2020, Yadollah Javani, the director of the IRGC's political bureau, said: "With God's help, we will see the establishment of a strong Majlis in the February 21, 2020 elections. What we need today in the country and in the revolution is a strong Majlis that will ensure respect, prestige, and forward motion. It is the nation that puts together a strong Majlis.

"The IRGC and the Basij are not parties that can submit a list [of candidates]. We do not recognize the IRGC as a party, but it actively holds political activity. Is it conceivable for there to be a non-revolutionary Majlis – and for us to remain indifferent, at a time when the enemy, counterrevolutionary [elements], and supporters of the West are trying to put together a non-revolutionary Majlis? The IRGC operates with insight, wisdom, and clarification of the situation in order to cause people to vote wisely and consciously, and ultimately there will be a strong, revolutionary Majlis. A strong Majlis is one that has the mighty backing of the public's votes. We must elect representatives like [slain IRGC Qods Force commander Qassem] Soleimani whom the Leader [Khamenei] considers a path and a school of thought."[21]

IRGC political bureau director Yadollah Javani, (Source: ISNA, Iran, February 12, 2020)

Chief Of Staff Of Iran's Armed Forces Mohammad Bagheri: A Majlis "Aligned With The Islamic Revolution" Is One "Compatible With The Thinking And Demands Of The Leader, And Is Accepted By The Iranian Citizens"

On February 19, Iranian chief of staff Mohammad Bagheri called on the public to go out to vote in order to thwart the enemy's plots, and stressed that the elected Majlis must be "aligned with the Islamic Revolution" and that its members must be "religious and believe in the fundamental [values] of the revolution and the regime." He said: "The solid evidence and records show that in the current circumstances and ahead of the February 21, 2020 elections, the enemies of the Iranian nation have harnessed their media resources and their capabilities to the strategy of 'discouraging the people' [regarding] the future and persuading them to stay away from the polls. This way, they imagine, the elections will... have minimal turnout, and this increases the pressure on the country.

"At this juncture, what conforms to the thinking and demands of the [Supreme] Leader and is accepted by the people is without a doubt a Majlis that is aligned with the Islamic revolution, whose members are religious and believe in the fundamental [values] of the revolution and the regime, and who have 'efficiency,' 'revolutionary spirit,' and 'anti-Arrogance' [i.e. oppose the U.S.]. These are three important elements and criteria.

"Clearly, 'prudent choice' can improve the efficiency of the Majlis and elevate it to the top of the [public's] agenda so as to defend the constitution and the revolution and its achievements... Maximal and enthusiastic turnout of the Iranian nation [to vote] in the February 21, 2020 elections will no doubt lead that terroristic regime [called] America – the axis of evil and hostility against the Islamic Revolution and the Islamic lands – to a dead-end strategy. With God's help,  the establishment of a strong, religious Majlis armed with expertise and knowledge and committed to [Iran's] national interests will resolve the problems and [meet] the challenges, and, together with the other institutions and organizations, it will uphold the country's pride in its strategic confrontation with the enemy, especially [its confrontation with] the sanctions and economic warfare.

"Experience has taught us that when we act against our enemies' will, our country at that precise moment experiences opportunities and long-lasting benefits. I recommend that the elected [Majlis members] be like [Qassem] Soleimani, and serve the people honestly, turning the 'house of the nation' [the Majlis] into the center of the country's power, and into the embodiment of the 'strong Iran' strategy.'"[22]   

Ammar Headquarters Director: The Guardian Council Does What It Can To Bring Better People Into The Majlis  

Mehdi Taeb, head of the Ammar Headquarters think tank that advises the Supreme Leader, said at a Revolution Day ceremony on February 1, 2020 at a mosque in Qom: "With regard to the Guardian Council's activity and the disqualification of candidates, the elections are not meant to be unilateral... The Guardian Council does everything it can to bring better people into the Majlis."[23] 

*A. Savyon is Director of the Iran Studies Project; M. Manzour, and M. Abraham are Research Fellows at MEMRI.


Appendix: MEMRI Reports On Iran's Presidential And Majlis Elections

The following are MEMRI reports from previous years on presidential and Majlis elections in Iran and the Guardian Council's disqualification of reformist and moderate conservative candidates.


[1] After Ayatollah Khomeini took power, the Iranian constitution established the Guardian Council, whose role was to ensure that Majlis legislation was shari'a-compliant, and to approve or disqualify presidential and Majlis candidates. The council is a conservative body comprising six clerics appointed by the Supreme Leader, and six jurists who also must be approved by the Leader. The criteria on which the Guardian Council bases its decisions leave it sufficient authority to reject any candidates it does not want.

[2] Khamenei insists that the economic woes of the Iranian public must be solved with the "resistance economy," that is, with self-reliance and rejection of economic cooperation with the West, including foreign investment in Iran. For Khamenei's explanation of "resistance economy," see MEMRI Special Dispatch No.6088, Khamenei's 'Red Lines' Speech, June 29, 2015.

[3] Iran's first election took place after the Constitutional Revolution in 1905-1906.

[4], February 2, 2020.

[5], February 11, 2020.

[6] ISNA (Iran), January 29, 2020.  


[8] Parvaneh Salahshouri, a member of the 10th Majlis, publicly protested against the regime's violent repression of the public during the November 2019 fuel protests and against the Majlis's failure to function because of decisions made from above. See MEMRI TV Clip No. 7653, Iranian Majlis Member Parvaneh Salahshouri: Iran's Decision Makers Are out of Touch with the People; Our Government Has Redundant Agencies with Overlapping Authorities, December 9, 2019.

[9], February 5, 2020.

[10], February 18, 2020.

[11] Mehr, February 5, 2020.

[12] Mehr (Iran), February 11, 2019.

[13] Mehr (Iran), February 12, 2020.

[14] Mehr (Iran), February 6, 2020.

[15] Mehr (Iran), February 10, 2020.

[16] Fars (Iran), February 2, 2020.

[17] Fars (Iran), January 29, 2020.

[18] Kayhan (Iran), February 3, 2020.

[19] Kayhan (Iran), February 6, 2020.

[20] Javan (Iran), January 27, 2020.

[21] ISNA (Iran), February 12, 2020. 

[22] ISNA (Iran), February 19, 2020.

[23] IRNA (Iran), February 1, 2020.

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