Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 6 December 2020

Iran election 2020: everything you need to know about the parliamentary vote

Candidates have seen the largest disqualification from eligibiltiy in decades with some political factions boycotting the elections

On Friday, Iran will hold the first round of its 11th parliamentary election.

The Islamic republic’s Majlis (parliament) has only ever allowed a narrow range of politicians to run for office, but these are the most non-competitive elections in years.

This is because the Guardian Council, a vetting body of six clerics appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and six jurists, disqualified more than half of the 14,000 people who had applied to be candidates in December to enter the race.

The majority of those rejected come from two factions, the reformists and the moderates, in what thematic analysis labels the Republican camp. The High Policy Council of Reformists, representing all major reformist politicians, also declared it will not endorse candidates in Tehran and many other provinces.

As a result, the majority of constituencies in Iran will not have a single reformist contender competing against the conservative prinicplist candidates, better known as the hardliners.

There were also some candidates from the prinicplist faction among those barred and 90 current members of parliament (MPs).

Ayatollah Khamenei has called for a parliament dominated by “young, devout and revolutionary forces” indicating his desire for a changing of the guard.

While many of the values and ideals claimed by the supreme leader also lean toward this theocratic left camp, Ayatollah Khamenei tends to balance and shift between the two theocratic camps.

When are the polling dates?

The election is split across two dates, the first on Friday, Feburary 21, and the second round in May. The hopefuls are running their campaigns until Wednesday.

What is Iran’s political spectrum?

In the 2016 election, the reformists bloc and their centrist and conservatives/moderate theocratic allies won 41 per cent of parliamentary seats. The principlists won 29 per cent and independents took 28 per cent of the seats. The result was a setback for the conservative bloc.

Iran’s domestic politics is notorious for its divisiveness, as well as the shifting nature of factional alliances. Here's a look at the cast.


Iranian Judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi. AFP
Iranian Judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi. AFP

The principlists are economically left, desire greater state intervention in Iranian social and political life and redistribution in the economy.

The faction also staunchly supports the supreme leader and the principle of vilayat e faqih, or the guardianship of the Islamic jurists.

The faction places credence on the status quo in Iran through divine basis and are core believers of the Islamic republic, as well as being closely associated with the Basij paramilitary and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp.

They oppose negotiations with the West.

Prominent prinicplists include former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi.

Conservatives/Modern theocrats

The conservatives are economically right and the traditional core power base of the Islamic republic's clergy and the bazaari merchants.

Again, divine legitimacy of the Islamic republic’s ruling theologians is a theme in this faction but they diverge from prinicplists as they support engagement with the outside world, evident in conservative support for the nuclear deal.

Conservatives represent the economic interests of Iran’s bazaari merchant class, and prefer less state regulation of the economy, but do like state protectionism for certain import mercantile sectors.

Prominent conservatives include Speaker Ali Larijani and former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, now a senior adviser to the supreme leader.


Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi.  AFP
Mir Hossein Mousavi. AFP

The reformists are economically left and idealise popular sovereignty and a prominent role of the state in the economy.

They support structural reforms that would give elected bodies a greater role in governance and seek to enhance democratic accountability in the country.

Prominent figures include former prime minister Mir Hussein Mousavi and Shia cleric Mehdi Karroub.


The moderates support the underlying constitutional structure of the Islamic republic but also represent Iran's technocratic class.

The faction is economically right, and espouses economic liberalisation and diplomatic engagement with the West.

Moderates give greater weight to the Islamic republic other than its divine sacredness, and economically embrace and advocate views more similar to neoliberalism akin to a China model of development.

Prominent figures include former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and current president Hassan Rouhani.

Who to Watch

The following are major candidates who have declared their intention to run for parliament and have been approved by the Guardian Council as of January 2020.

Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf

Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf. EPA
Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf. EPA

The former mayor of Tehran and former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force heads the Coalition Council of Islamic Revolution Forces, Iran’s main conservative parliamentary list.

Mostafa Mir Salim

The head of the conservative Islamic Coalition Party served as culture minister from 1994 to 1997 under President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. He was responsible for the closure of reformist publications.

Masoud Pezeshkian

The deputy speaker of the Majles was among the few reformist politicians qualified by the Guardian Council to run for re-election. Mr Pezeshkian served as minister of health from 2001 to 2005 and in 2016 won a seat from Tabriz city by a significant margin.

Majid Ansari

Majid Ansari, left, and Morteza Nabavi. Reuters
Majid Ansari, left. Reuters

The reformist cleric and spokesperson of the left-wing Association of Combatant Clerics announced his candidacy in late 2019. As of January 2020, Mr Ansari was the only member from his political party not disqualified by the Guardian Council.

Who is eligible to vote?

Officially voting requirements are quite simple with the voting age set at 18 years-old and any voter must hold Iranian citizenship. An Iranian can be disqualified from voting under the circumstances of insanity. Voting is not compulsory.

Who can stand for election?

An Iranian may qualify for candidacy in parliamentary elections if they are between the ages of 30 to 75 years-old, hold Iranian citizenship, be a practicing Muslim (unless running to represent one of the religious minorities in Iran), and be a supporter of the Islamic republic and pledge loyalty to Constitution.

A candidate must also be in good health or physical well-being and have sufficient literacy.

There is some discrepancy over whether candidates also need a Masters degree or the equivalent, and have finished their mandatory military service if they're a man.

An Iranian woman walks past an electoral billboard in a street of Tehran. EPA
An Iranian woman walks past an electoral billboard in a street of Tehran. EPA

A candidate can be deemed ineligible if they played a leading role in enforcing the former regime under the Shah.

Large landowners, persons belonging to groups deemed illegal, those convicted of anti-government activity, those who've renounced Islam or converted (apostasy), guilty of corruption, fraud, bribery, drug trafficking or addiction, violating Sharia law or are mentality impaired can all be disqualified from voting.

Government ministers, members of the Guardian Council and High Judicial Council are banned from running for office, as is the Head of the Administrative Court of Justice, the Head of General Inspection, some civil servants and religious leaders and any member of the armed forces.

How many parliamentarians are Iranians electing?

The 290-seat parliament is a unicameral legislature; meaning it has a single legislative chamber that elects parliamentarians for a four-year term through a majority by a two-round voting system.

Among those 290 seats, 285 seats are eligible for direct elections.

The remaining five seats are reserved for minorities in Iran, namely the Zoroastrians, Jews, Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, and Armenian Christians in the north and south of the country.

How is the voting conducted?

This voting method is used to elect a single winner, where the voter casts a single vote for their chosen candidate, and if one no candidate receives a simple majority, then a second round of voting is held with either just the top two candidates or all candidates who received a certain proportion of the votes.

There are 207 single and or multi-member constituencies in the Islamic republic.

In order to be elected a candidate must obtain at least 25 per cent of the votes cast in the first round of their constituency, and then a simple majority in the second.

The number of candidates who may run in the second round is restricted to those in the lead and to twice the number of seats to be filled in the constituency concerned.

Any vacancies arising between general elections are filled through by-elections. No by-elections are held within the last year of the Majlis' term, unless the total number of filled seats falls below 200.

The Ministry of the Interior is the official body administering all elections and is the only official source for all election results. The Islamic republic of Iran does not accept international election monitoring.

Which are the provinces to watch?

Iran is subdivided into 31 provinces, each governed from a local centre, usually the largest local city, which is called the capital of that province. The provincial authority is headed by a Governor-General, who is appointed by the Minister of the Interior subject to approval of the cabinet.


The Grand Bazaar in central Tehran. The capital is a bellwether for Iranian elections. Reuters
The Grand Bazaar in central Tehran. The capital is a bellwether for Iranian elections. Reuters

In Iran’s parliamentary elections, the outcome in Tehran is seen as a “bellwether for elite sentiment in Iran,” considering it is the political and economic capital of the country.

This is according to a report by Harvard’s Belfer Center. Tehran has the largest share of parliamentary seats - 30 of 290 - of any provincial bloc. In 2016, President Rouhani’s coalition won all 30 parliamentary seats in Tehran in a stunning rebuke to Iran’s principlist bloc.

In 2020, reformists pledged not run an electoral list in Tehran due to the mass disqualification of their candidates by the Guardian Council. “There is no possibility of fair competition for the deep-rooted reformist camp,” the reformist coalition said in a statement.

Razavi Khorasan

The province is home to Mashhad, Iran's second largest city.

It is where the Imam Reza shrine is located, a major pilgrimage site for millions of Shiites. In 2016, Mashhad awarded all its seats to the principlist and conservative electoral coalition.


Isfahan, which has 18 seats in the Majlis, has traditionally been a conservative stronghold. Conservatives and hardliners together won 10 seats in the 2016 parliamentary elections. Months later, the Guardian Council disqualified a female reformist candidate, Minoo Khaleghi, after photos of her without a headscarf were published online.


Iran’s southwest Khuzestan province is one of Iran’s larger electoral regions.

It has a sizeable Arab minority and in the 2016 election conservatives won half of the 18 seats allotted for Khuzestan province.

However, the province is restive and security forces killed at least 40 protesters in Mahshahr, a major city in the province, in November.

Updated: February 21, 2020 12:00 PM

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