Iran Elections Could Mark Turning Point in Power Struggle

Iranians head to the polls on Friday for the first time since disputed presidential elections in 2009, and although most experts do not believe this week's parliamentary elections will witness similar tension, it may still prove a crucial turning point in a domestic power struggle that has been in the making for years.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran

Competition for more representation in parliament will largely be fought out between supporters of current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, grouped in the Resistance Front bloc, and those of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of the United Front. Neither side represents the reformist camp, which has been further marginalized over the past two years. Fraud allegations, widespread protests and clashes with security forces marred the 2009 elections, in which Ahmadinejad was re-elected.

Other groups taking part include the Endurance Front, and “The People’s Voice,” both of which are understood to be loyal to Khamenei. Many reformists have chosen to boycott the elections, and some of its prominent leaders, such as Mir Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karrubi, are under house arrest. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also issued a note condemning the arrest of two journalists and attempts to bar millions of citizens from accessing the Internet.

"That the government's repression is intensifying before an election underscores its disregard for the basic rights of its people," the statement read.

A large turnout will be critical in ensuring the legitimacy of the new parliament. Officials have not shied away from promoting the significance of a “huge turnout,” a target Khamenei described as “important” on Wednesday.

Iran “will give the global arrogance a slap in the face in Friday’s election… and will flaunt [its] resolve and strong determination in the face of the enemy so that the hegemonistic bloc will realize that they will not be able to make progress in their confrontation,” he was quoted in the Tehran Times.

To encourage the 48 million eligible citizens to vote, authorities ran major awareness campaigns, coupled with extensive domestic news coverage. According to official sources, some 3,400 candidates are running for the 290 seats up for grabs in the Majlis, also known as the Islamic Consultative Assembly or parliament. That in itself resembles a substantial drop compared with the 2008 parliamentary elections, a decline largely attributed to more stringent nomination criteria and disenchantment with the process among reformists. Human Rights Watch said on Thursday that the vote “will be grossly unfair because of arbitrary disqualifications and other restrictions.”

UN, US and European Union sanctionshave had a significant effect on the country’s economy, with inflation officially exceeding 20 percent, unemployment rising, and the government struggling to sustain fiscal policies. Crude oil exports of OPEC’s second-largest producer, estimated to have been just over 2 million barrels per day as of late last year, provide more than 55 percent of government revenue. But regardless of the shifts in representation in parliament, it is unlikely to draw with it any alterations in Iran’s nuclear policy.

The outcome of the parliamentary elections will also set the stage for the next presidential elections, slated for the summer of 2013.