Iranians abroad question impact of elections

Iranian expatriates can’t vote in parliamentary elections, but they still pay close attention to internal politics.

Iranian expats protest in Berlin
Iranian expats have been especially active in recent years, holding protests around the world [GALLO/GETTY]

They can’t vote in the country’s parliamentary elections, but Iranian expatriates are nonetheless noting the circumstances governing the country’s internal politics.

There are roughly five million Iranian citizens living overseas. According to Iran’s Press TV, nearly 200,000 cast ballots in the 2009 presidential poll from the 95 countries where Iran set up polling stations. Some estimates of those numbers are much higher.

Polling stations were even set up in countries with which Iran has no diplomatic ties, such as the United States.

This week’s parliamentary elections, in which a power struggle between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the hardliners who put him in office is taking place, is another matter.

“Expats can vote in presidential elections but not in parliamentary elections or Experts Assembly elections that are based on electoral voting districts,” said Merhzard Boroujerdi, a professor of political science at Syracuse University in the US state of New York.

“In presidential elections, one can vote anywhere in the country,” he said, adding that the same right is extended to Iranians living outside the country at the time of the elections.

Legitimacy questioned

Soheil Parhizi, a Switzerland-based rights activist, is less worried about expatriates not being allowed to vote during parliamentary elections and more concerned about what such a poll would mean at such a crucial time in Iran.

“In my opinion, elections under these circumstances are a show of force by the government, while also giving the illusion of serving the people,” said Parhizi, 39.

“Meaning that ruling by these elections is a way of showing that they can represent or side with the people while getting the results they want out of the ballot box. And in no way can this one-sided parliament, void of a variety of parties, execute any legislative progress,” Parhizi added.

The hurdle is that the Guardian Council, a 12-member body, half of which is appointed by the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has final say on the parliamentary candidates. This is the same body that approves presidential candidates.

A UK diplomatic cable leaked by WikiLeaks in September indicates that Khamenei is grooming his son, Mojtaba, to be his successor, and that Mojtaba’s close relationship with Mohamed Baqer Qalibaf, the mayor of Tehran, virtually guarantees the latter’s position as Iran’s next president.

Sanctions’ impact

Yet, despite the air of inevitability, Parhizi said that the elections aren’t just a formality. In fact, he said they cement the country’s political power structure, restoring some of the power it has lost under the “critical conditions of inflation, unemployment, government corruption and sanctions“.

Noting that some opposition members have boycotted the poll, Parhizi said the Iranian government will still put on a display of power after the elections, backing its claims with inflated “bogus numbers” to dishearten the opposition.

Behrang Miri, a rapper and musician, says he sees the elections as “a Muppet show”.

“It’s not going to be a change, whether we have these types of elections or that type elections,” said the 28-year-old, who lives in Malmo, Sweden.

“This system is still a dictatorship, and as long as we have this dictatorship, it doesn’t matter how they want to re-arrange and change the way of how people are elected.”

‘Drowned out’

Bitta Mostofi, an attorney in New York, shrugs off the importance of these elections.

“I don’t take them seriously as a democratic action that the people can take. For me, right now, it’s more important to prove what will be a huge human catastrophe if any military action is taken against Iran and if the sanctions continue as they are,” said Mostofi.

Does the 31-year-old attorney wish she could participate in some way in the parliamentary poll?

“At the moment, as an expat, while I continue to shed light on the internal suppression of the country, I’m that much more fearful of and focused on what the sanctions are doing,” said Mostofi.

Iran has been hit by four rounds of sanctions, and after the county’s currency lost about 20 per cent of its value against the US dollar by early January, the parliament held a debate on the currency crisis. It passed a measure imposing legal penalties on unofficial money traders after the currency crash prompted a rush to buy dollars.

“That has a lot to do with everything domestically now being overshadowed by the foreign issues, the sorts of problems that could be the parliamentary elections are secondary now. Everyone’s thinking about the sanctions … their own hardships…as well as these louder calls for war or military strikes from abroad,” she said.

“The elections are completely drowned out at this moment.”

Status quo

With the relatively short campaigning period of one week and the pressures facing Iranians at the moment, some expatriates doubt that there will be a huge voter turnout in the country.

“In terms of what’s happening domestically, it’s all sort a game in terms of whose candidates go forward, and that’s the dynamic of the domestic politics,” said Mostofi.

Parhizi also doubts Iranians will turn out in large numbers on March 2.

“Under these conditions, what would prompt people to flock to the ballot boxes would be something that represents material change, and democratic governance, not just an election that represents a single-party view,” he said

Parhizi added  that the house arrest of reformist leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi since February 2011 indicates to many that there is, “no hope of freedom and reform”.


Follow D. Parvaz on Twitter: Dparvaz 

Source: Al Jazeera