ISSN 2330-717X

Electoral Boycott In Iran Reflects People’s Desire For Regime Change – OpEd

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Iranian state media have been acknowledging for weeks that this Friday’s presidential election will have low turnout. Now, it seems as if groups as diverse as pensioners, university students, and middle class investors have all staged protests which featured slogans like, “We have seen no justice; we will not vote anymore.”

Among the latest commentaries to appear in state media outlets, there has been the claim that upwards of 90 percent of students will avoid the polls on Friday. Concordantly, some outlets have also acknowledged that the youth’s embrace of the boycott movement goes hand-in-hand with its embrace of the country’s leading pro-democracy opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

A hardline outlet known as the Students News Network reported on Saturday that “this opportunist enemy is recruiting youth on a large scale” and “it is not clear whether we can stop this trend even with thousands of actions.” Years ago, such statements would have been unprecedented in Iranian news outlets that operate at the behest of the government, or with its blessing. Today, they are becoming commonplace and are revealing not only the inroads that the MEK has made in the Iranian society but also the vulnerability of a regime that is struggling to suppress or cover up that phenomenon.

In January 2018, when the Iranian regime found itself in the middle of a weeks-long popular uprising that featured provocative anti-government slogans like “death to the dictator” and “hardliners, reformists: the game is over.” This message, repeated in well over 100 Iranian cities and towns, conveyed a clear rejection of the existing political system and thus an endorsement of the sort of regime change long advocated by the MEK and its parent coalition the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

In March 2019, upon orders from Khamenei, the Iranian judiciary was placed under the control of Ebrahim Raisi. Raisi was one of the key-figures in the 1988 massacre of political prisoners, having served on the Tehran “death commission” that ordered the hanging of thousands of political prisoners. Raisi’s tenure as judiciary chief was defined almost instantly by an escalation in enforcement of repression. The judiciary demonstrated its defiance of international criticism and universal human rights principles by implementing death penalties for certain individuals like the champion wrestler Navid Afkari in spite of global campaigns for clemency.

Afkari was arrested in a major protest that took place in 2018. The scale and persistence of such protests were no doubt additional contributing factors in Khamenei’s decision to call up Raisi to serve as a particularly brutal judiciary chief. And that role was soon put to the test by the outbreak of another nationwide uprising in November 2019, this one encompassing nearly 200 localities.

Confronted with the resurgence of the previous year’s calls for regime change, Khamenei urged Iranian authorities to restore order by any means necessary. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps promptly responded by opening fire on crowds of protesters and killing 1,500 in a matter of days. The crackdown also featured at least 12,000 arrests, and Amnesty International later confirmed that the Iranian judiciary was responsible for “trampling humanity” via months of torture, much of it aimed at securing false confessions and setting the stage for national security crimes that would further discourage cooperation with opposition groups like the MEK.

All of these repressive measures have failed, however. Just two months after the 2019 uprising, Iranians were back out in the streets in more than a dozen provinces, protesting the IRGC’s downing of a commercial airliner and the regime’s subsequent attempt to cover it up. That movement, too, featured familiar slogans and the open endorsement of political goals closely associated with the MEK and the NCRI. The following month, those goals were clarified by an electoral boycott which MEK “Resistance Units” inside Iran had prompted as a means of “voting for regime change.”

That promotion has been occurring on an even larger scale ahead of Friday’s presidential election. In April alone, the Resistance Units reportedly displayed posters, painted graffiti, and staged in-person demonstrations, at risk of severe retaliation, in at least 250 locations throughout Iran. In May, the list of targeted areas expanded to 310, and calls for an electoral boycott continued into this week and are unlikely to stop before the polls close. What’s more, Iranian Resistance activists anticipate that if the boycott is as effective as many expect, it will set the stage for further anti-government protests which may rival the scale of the 2018 and 2019 uprisings.

*Hossein Abedini is a member of the Parliament in exile of the Iranian resistance (NCRI) and belongs to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. Mr. Abedini was seriously wounded by the death squads of the Iranian regime in Turkey in March 1990 and is one the few survivors of the terrorism of the Iranian regime.

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