On February 21, Iranians will head to the polls to choose members for the country’s 290-seat parliament. The vote could not come at a more sensitive time for Iran.
The country is still grappling with the chaotic fallout from the United States’ assassination of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad on January 3. The killing, which pushed the longtime foes to the precipice of an all-out-war, came as Washington tightened sanctions against Tehran as part of a years-long “maximum pressure” campaign that has crippled Iran’s economy and driven down its oil exports. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’s (IRGC) actions to avenge Soleimani’s killing, however, only increased the turmoil in Iran.
On January 8, the paramilitary force fired a volley of missiles at US targets in Iraq, and while the retaliatory attacks did not cause any fatalities, the IRGC shot down a Ukrainian airliner hours later, killing all 176 people on board.
Amid fears the plane disaster could trigger a new bout of protests, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei took the stage in a rare Friday sermon on January 17, defending the IRGC and urging his countrymen to take part in the legislative elections. “The presence of the people insures the country and disappoints the enemy,” he said.
For the Islamic Republic of Iran, high electoral participation is heralded as a sign of public legitimacy.
But observers say they expect a reduced turnout in February’s polls, as public discontent at perceived government mismanagement and corruption rises amid the US pressure and worsening economic conditions. The worries over voter participation have intensified in the past week, after the Guardian Council, a constitutional watchdog that vets legislation and electoral candidates, announced it had disqualified more than a third of the 14,500 parliamentary hopefuls, including a record 90 incumbent legislators.
Iraqi protester: ‘We did not vote for Iranian government’ (1:56)
Among them is Mahmoud Sadeghi, a member of the reformist bloc affiliated w