There are no reformist politicians in Iran. It has always been and will remain so until the theocratic dictatorship is overthrown and replaced by a democratic alternative that truly reflects the will of its people.
Those with only a superficial understanding of Iranian affairs can read this and protest that the regime only held a democratic election last Friday. But this “choice”, like everyone else who adheres to the rules of the clerical regime, was not democratic in the truest sense of the word. Before the public can have their say, all candidates for high office must be screened by a body called the Guardian Council, which excludes anyone deemed insufficiently loyal to the Iranian constitution, the supreme leader, or the regime’s fundamentalist interpretations of Islam.
This system positively guarantees that not even proponents of real democratic reform are allowed to campaign in front of the Iranian people. Any promise of reform within the Guardian Council itself is anticipated by the fact that this body is fully committed to the Supreme Leader. Six of its twelve members are appointed by him directly, the other six are appointed by the chairman of the judiciary, who is also elected by the supreme leader. The current head of justice, Ebrahim Raisi, is one of the regime’s most unrepentant and vicious figures and is responsible for several crimes against humanity, including the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in the summer of 1988.
In the sham elections on Friday, Raisi happens to be the next president of the regime, but not even a member of the so-called reformist faction protested against the rigged process or the presidency of Raisi.
On the contrary, Rouhani himself appeared on Iranian state television to invite all citizens to participate in the sham elections, and most of the so-called reformist media welcomed Raisi as the winner long before the results were officially announced. The current president of the regime’s public appeal confirmed that many Iranians opposed all of the names on the ballot, but emulated the supreme leader when he spoke about the election as a religious duty that affirmed the political legitimacy of the system itself, regardless of the extremely narrow range of ideologies it represents
Many other functionaries from both the “hardline” and the “reformist” camp repeated this topic of conversation in the weeks leading up to the election. The Iranian people sacked them all and boycotted the elections on Friday en masse. Tehran was quick to admit that less than half of the electorate turned out – a historic low for presidential elections and roughly the same as the all-time low set in the regime’s most recent general election last year. But the Organization of the People’s Mojahedin of Iran stressed that the regime inflated the statistics to downplay the extent to which citizens genuinely condemned the illegality of the political process.
According to the MEK, the actual turnout in the February 2020 election was around a quarter of those eligible to vote, in June 2021 it was only around a tenth. The latter estimate is based on data collected from around 1,200 journalists from 400 cities across Iran. As a result, Ms. Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of the NCRI, described the “greatest political and social blow” to the supreme leader and the system that underlies his rule.
Raisi’s election as the regime’s next president was a clear sign that the so-called reformist faction within the regime is responding to the Supreme Leader’s wishes. Even after their faction was largely excluded from both parliamentary and presidential elections, they gave no sign of opposition to the plan to install Raisi as the regime’s next president and set the stage for worse in the months and years to come Raids.
This should tell western politicians everything they need to know about the nature of the “hardline” and “reformist” ideology in the regime. If there are domestic political differences between these factions, it is only the struggle for more shares of power.
The Iranian people had rejected the false dichotomy of the regime’s politics long before the election boycott on Friday. Both the January 2018 uprising and the November 2019 uprising contained slogans that addressed both factions by name and condemned their “game” of power-sharing and mutual corruption. The boycott only served to reinforce that message and, as Ms. Rajavi said in a statement shortly afterwards, to underline that regime change is the only means of solving Iran’s myriad problems.
It is high time that Western politicians, together with the Iranian people, publicly acknowledge the illegality of the regime’s sham elections and the system that supports them. And it is long time they stopped negotiating and trading with the mullah regime on the outdated assumption that in doing so they will enable Iranian reformists to effectively compete against hardliners. That has always been stupid, but with the recent election this fact is more natural than ever. There are no reformists within the regime. Iran’s only hope for a democratic future is outside of this regime, in the midst of an organized resistance whose leaderships of recent uprisings and boycotts point the way to a new government based on free and fair elections.