The title is correct. “Azadi entekhab” in Persian means “the right to vote.” The Arabic and Persian vocabulary are intertwined, so the word “vote” is the same in both languages and, at times, it overlaps with the word “choice,” and the practical difference between both words is clear. The Iranian electoral process is not new to human history and practices, especially in the past decades, particularly in third-world countries.
This process is called “democracy by exhaustion.” Its implementation differs from one society to another. Still, it leads to the same result: society getting exhausted from the process itself, so it loses faith in the process or considers it absurd, disregards its consequences, and sees its outcome as foregone.
Fifty-five Iranian men and women applied to run for the next presidential elections, scheduled on Friday, June 18, 2021, while other sources reported a higher number of applicants. Of them, 44 applicants were accepted after studying their eligibility to run by the Guardian Council, an unelected political body. However, the Council’s selection and screening resulted in the qualification of only seven candidates to run for president. Theoretically, there is “selection” mixed with a little “election” in the entire process.
Any observer would already be aware of the existence of a deep state in Iran running the entire scene. For the hesitant and skeptical, the idea of the deep state emerged clearly and openly in the recent leaks of former Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, as several Iranians studying Iranian policy discussed it in a non-public setting, at academic forums. Like any other issue, some see it as a democracy of some kind and might add that it is absent in other countries even in its imperfect form.
In some countries, one person is nominated alone, without a partner, for the highest positions, which the Syrian regime recently avoided when three people ran for president. But the people decided to elect Bashar al-Assad by a large majority, only 95 percent, a man who has been described on the cover of Time magazine as the “Monster of the Century.” Thus, we find that implementing “democracy by coercion” or rather “leading the people to loathe the idea of democracy,” is originally a Western impractical idea in societies that adore “inspiring leaderships” and whoever does not want to be convinced can take it or leave it!
Is it expected that Iran’s policies in the region and the world will change after the elections, as they change, for example, between conservatives in Britain and the rule of the Labor Party? or between the Republicans and Democrats in the US? The logical answer is no. The deep state in Iran will not change. Certain popular military leaderships and a few of those surrounding the Supreme Leader set the state’s general policy, and any president and his ministers will not contribute to any change. It would be preferable if they belonged to the same faction to face the regime’s challenges.
Therefore, the world is not waiting for a change in the outcome of the upcoming elections. Instead, what has emerged so far is that the policies are becoming more hardline, as even some of those who follow the less hardline wing were crossed out and received a consolation prize from the Supreme Leader: Thanking them for not objecting to their elimination. Perhaps, for the sake of their political future they should send letters of appreciation to the wise leadership over its prudent decision.
Perhaps those, and the enlightened Iranian elites in the background, which are broad segments, can now be convinced, at least internally, that the game in which they participated is nothing short of absurd. And their survival in or around power depends on the consent or anger of a small group, again, not elected, that decides the future of these individuals, regardless of the service or sacrifice they have made to the regime.
Of course, the constitutional order is entirely different in Syria. After the last amendment, Bashar al-Assad is not allowed to run after two terms. According to available information, amending and changing the constitution is much easier than changing the president! The allies of the Syrian regime have precedents in this regard; whenever the presidential term is coming to an end, the text of the constitution is modified to preserve what is most important: The person of the president. The idea that general elections should be competitive, free, fair, transparent, and available to all the people who meet the general conditions of citizenship has now been changed to a different process. The supposedly unwise citizens have their minds made up for them regarding who to vote for, when to vote, and in what percentage and the rest is up to us, those in permanent power, to decide. The result of this is wars fought, conflicts exacerbated, resources consumed, and people remaining ignorant, sick, and hungry, because of this wonderful discovery of democracy by exhaustion.
Happy “Azadi Entekhab!”
This article was originally published and translated from Lebanese daily Al-Nahar al-Arabi.