Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Monday, January 28, 2008

Barriers to change ingrained in Iran’s electoral system

Farideh Fahri, independent researcher and Professor at the University of Hawaii, spoke about the electoral system in Iran and issues related to the upcoming elections at a forum held at the Woodrow Wilson Center on Friday.

In response to the volumes of recent press concerning the huge turnouts of people wishing to stand in the elections, and the correspondingly large numbers being disqualified, Fahri spoke about factors that are not often mentioned.

The reasons for many of the disqualifications are legitimate, she said. A new rule has recently been introduced that those standing in elections must be at least thirty years old, and those with prior criminal convictions are also excluded. Many of those who stand are not qualified for the job, nor do they actually expect to be elected. Fahri pointed out the gains to be made from qualifying to stand in an election, from a rise in social standing to the right to take out loans to finance the campaign.

However, many of those barred face less solid accusations. She said that many candidates are disqualified on the basis of accusations that they are spies for other countries, raising the question of why they haven’t been convicted of such an offense, and why they have remained free up to the point that they tried to stand in an election.

Other barriers to qualification for new candidates and those wishing to challenge those currently in power include a new rule that candidates must have at least a Master’s degree, with current members of the parliament being allowed to claim each term they have been elected as equivalent to one degree.

What the Guardian Council tries to do, she said, is disqualify as many opponents to the regime as possible without disenchanting those who currently support the government. She emphasized the importance of making sure a high percentage of the population votes in elections – at least, a higher percentage of the population than votes in elections in the United States – so that, when challenged, it can be argued that the elections were fair and legitimate.

Fahri also spoke about the difficulties that come with having so many candidates – namely, an extremely high degree of factionalism, resulting in confusion for voters as to who is in which political group. This, she said, may actually mean that reformists and centrists benefit from having many of their candidates disqualified. It will allow them to present a united front while conservatives fight amongst themselves for the coveted spaces at the top of the list of candidates.

According to Fahri, the past few years have seen Iran move so far to the right that candidates who would previously have been seen as extreme – such as Ali Larijani – are now considered moderate. Levels of dissatisfaction with the current government, particularly in the economic arena, are such that we may see some changes in elections over the next few years. However, she emphasized the fact that foreign policy is one area in which the current regime has been extremely popular, and thus any change in government is unlikely to produce dramatic changes in Iran’s relations with other states.


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