Legislative elections in Iran: demonstration of strength or proof of weakness of power?

Two years after the historic “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement, Iran is organizing legislative elections on Friday March 1 to renew the Assembly of Experts, responsible for electing the next supreme leader.

Elections where the democratic space is reduced, with the majority of candidates critical of power disqualified.

Is this authoritarianism a demonstration of the authorities' continued total control over the country, or rather an admission of weakness of a power that is struggling to legitimize itself?

A man walks past campaign posters of candidates for the legislative elections taking place on March 1, in Tehran, Iran, February 28, 2024. © ATTA KENARE / AFP

By: Oriane Verdier Follow


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Three years ago, Ebrahim Raïssi was elected president of the

Islamic Republic of Iran


Despite the critical voices which already denounced the lack of real competition, the former head of the Iranian judicial system embodied for his electorate the hope of a righteous and just man, who would put an end to the endemic corruption of the Iranian system, partly responsible of the country's serious economic crisis.

A year later,

young Mahsa Amini

was arrested by security forces in Tehran for “

improperly wearing the veil


Taken directly from the police station to the hospital, her death was officially announced three days later by the authorities, the spark that launched the “Woman, Life, Liberty” movement.

After months of bloody repression and a continuing civil resistance movement, Iranians are invited to vote to elect their representatives to Parliament as well as the great experts responsible for choosing the next supreme leader, the one who will replace Ali Khamenei, today aged 84.

The break is complete between ordinary people and those in power

,” notes Chirinne Ardakani.

The lawyer is a member of the “Iran Justice” collective which attempts to collect evidence of the Iranian regime’s abuses.

After the violent repression of the 2022 protests, the Iranian people deployed other strategies to avoid direct confrontation

,” she explains.

Women refuse to re-veil themselves in public spaces despite patrols by the moral police.

Workers mobilized massively on strike and during demonstrations, against a backdrop of social demands, in the context of a continuing economic crisis.


Latest sign of this rupture: the

vast call for a boycott of the elections

, coming in particular from cells of political prisoners, led by the Nobel Peace Prize winner Narges Mohammadi, of whom Chirinne Ardakani is the lawyer.

Read alsoLegislative elections in Iran: “One in three Iranians lives below the poverty line”

Reform candidates within conservative lists

These elections are therefore taking place with few unknowns, since the disqualification of many candidates reduces them to a competition between

conservatives and ultra-conservatives

, with a participation rate announced below 30%.

Despite everything, Thierry Coville, researcher at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations, draws attention to certain lists - certainly conservative - but still critical of the power in place.

There are debates within the Iranian political system with people who point out that in the Islamic Republic of Iran, there is still the word “republic”.

They ask the question: “Can we continue like this with this divide within the population?”

», Indicates the researcher. 

The major reforming figures having been excluded, certain reforming candidates

have also chosen to join these lists,

rather than abandoning the hope of reforming the system from within the system.

Is there the possibility inside of having some sort of opposition?

», asks Thierry Coville “

There is, for example, Ali Motahari in Tehran who is considered centrist.

This is perhaps one of the challenges of these elections

,” says Thierry Coville.


The regime does not really feel threatened in the short term


Another issue remains that of participation, a test of legitimacy for the Islamic Republic, after the most serious political crisis in its history caused by the “Woman, Life, Liberty” movement.

The figures of power therefore called for votes to strengthen the unity of the country, on the national and international stages.

But in reality, the regime does not really feel threatened in the short term

,” believes Thierry Coville.

On the international scene,

he was able to establish himself again by presenting himself as the master of order and chaos in the region, via his links with Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon and with the Houthis in Yemen.

After openly supporting the “Woman, Life, Liberty” movement, Western governments have “

prioritized the logic of realpolitik in dealing with the Iranians

,” regrets Chirinne Adrakani.

There was a conscious arbitration that was made, delivering the message:

“We hear the aspiration of the Iranian people for democracy, public freedoms and equality between women and men, but we can do nothing for him, because the balance of power today is on the side of Iranian political power



Chirinne Ardakani therefore sadly shares the same observation as Thierry Coville.

Today, fear is still on the side of those who risk imminent arrest, are in danger of death.

I think we should not underestimate the sophistication of the totalitarian regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

But the resistance movement of civil society is long-term, and that is what will make the difference.

At some point, the question of the succession of the supreme guide will arise, and this is perhaps where a new window of opportunity will open 

,” she judges.

Indeed, Ali Khamenei is 84 years old and reportedly suffering from cancer.

This Friday, March 1, the major experts responsible for choosing a successor will be elected, with once again hand-picked candidates.

But this lockdown by the authorities may not be enough to avoid the crisis, because no successor guarantor of unity is clearly required today.

Read also Launch of the legislative campaign in Iran: “Everything is locked”


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