Iran elections 2024: What is at stake in first vote since Mahsa Amini protests?

Voters will elect members of parliament and assembly of experts amid expectations of low turnout and boycott

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Iranians will cast ballots in legislative and key assembly elections on Friday, with conservatives expected to tighten their grip on power in the absence of any serious competition.

The vote comes amid mounting economic difficulties in Iran, which has also been grappling with the aftershocks of mass protests caused by the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody in 2022.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will be the first Iranian to cast his ballot on Friday at 8am local time at one of the 59,000 polling stations.

"Everyone must participate in the elections," he said in a speech this month, urging "influential personalities" to encourage people to vote.

"The more fervent the elections, the more national authority and national security will be secured," he said of the vote, which will be held against a backdrop of soaring tensions in the Middle East.

The elections will take place amid expectations of a low voter turnout, reflecting widespread dissatisfaction with the country's leadership.

Who and what are Iranians voting for?

Iranians are voting for two bodies: the 290-seat parliament and the 88-seat Assembly of Experts.

Iran’s parliament is a unicameral legislature with responsibility for drafting legislation, ratifying international treaties and approving the country’s annual budget.

Voters will also decide who will make up the 88-member Assembly of Experts, a key legislative body that appoints the supreme leader.

Mr Khamenei, who turns 85 this year, has held the post of supreme leader since 1989.

Although the Assembly of Experts largely follows the supreme leader's guidance and rubber stamps his orders, it also has the power to dismiss him if he is unable to perform his constitutional duties or if it decides he should not have initially qualified for the role.

A total of 144 candidates have been approved to run for seats in the Assembly of Experts, for an eight-year term.

Moderate former president Hassan Rouhani said that he was barred from seeking re-election to the assembly after 24 years of membership.

What is the expected voter turnout?

More than 61 million of Iran's 85 million people are eligible to vote. A recent poll conducted by Iran's state television found more than half of respondents were indifferent to the elections.

Iran's current parliament was elected in a vote in 2020, during the Covid pandemic. The elections then had a turnout of 42.57 per cent – the lowest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

In Tehran, where less than 20 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballots in 2020, election banners are noticeably less prevalent than in previous elections.

Who is running for election and who has been barred?

Analysts expect the elections to be dominated by conservative and ultra-conservative candidates, mirroring the make-up of the current parliament.

Aspiring candidates had to be vetted in order to be allowed to stand. The majority of candidates who put themselves forward did not pass the vetting process and were barred from standing.

Jurists in charge of the process approved only 15,200 applicants for the parliamentary elections – less than one-third of the 49,000 who registered, according to the latest statistics released by the Iranian government. For the Assembly of Experts, 144 candidates have been approved to stand for the 88 seats.

Iran’s constitution mandates five reserved seats in parliament for religious minorities. Two seats are set aise for Armenian Christians, and one each for Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians.

Some critics of the government have also decided to boycott the elections.

The Reform Front, a key coalition of reformist parties, has said it would not take part in "meaningless, non-competitive, and ineffective elections".

Moderate former president Hassan Rouhani said he was barred from seeking re-election to the assembly after 24 years of membership.

Mr Rouhani said the election "should be a protest vote" for those who are opposed to "current conditions and seek transformation".

The powerful Guardians’ Council, a body appointed by the country's supreme leader and made up of 12 Islamic jurists, also disqualified more than a dozen incumbent MPs from seeking re-election.

The disqualified MPs include two members of the minority factions in parliament and several critics of a "hijab and chastity” bill that proposed extensive penalties for women opposing wearing the mandatory hijab.

Why does this election matter?

The elections will be the first since months-long protests sparked by the death of Ms Amini, 22, in police custody.

She had been arrested for allegedly flouting Iran's strict dress code for women.

Her death sparked nationwide protests under the slogan "Women, Life, Freedom", which challenged the role of Iran's morality police.

Those protests tapped into wider dissatisfaction with the political and economic management of the country and prompted a harsh crackdown from security forces in which more than 500 people were killed.

Iran's economy has also been reeling under US sanctions imposed over Tehran's nuclear programme.

Many in Iran have been struggling to make ends meet as they grapple with soaring inflation and a record depreciation of the rial against the US dollar.

The vote on Friday is also being held as Israel is fighting against the Iran-backed group Hamas in Gaza, following the October 7 attacks.

The conflict has drawn in other Iran-backed armed groups, including Lebanon's Hezbollah and Yemen's Houthi rebels.

Critics of the regime accuse it of spending vast amounts of money to fund militia groups across the region at a time when many in Iran are struggling financially.

Updated: March 01, 2024, 6:04 AM