Economic woes put Iran vote in the shade

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Economic woes put Iran vote in the shade

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Iran’s first parliamentary elections since the controversial presidential ballot in 2009 have failed to grab public interest and campaigning has been lacklustre.

The vote comes down to a battle between traditional conservatives supporting the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, always pictured with Ayatollah Khomeini, and those backing President Mahmoud Ahmajinedad’s government.

The reformist opposition, whose leaders are under house arrest, has called for a boycott and 35 percent of would-be candidates were vetoed by Iran’s Guardian Council.

But for many Iranians, the elections are the least of their worries.

“I think the economy has become a large part of people’s lives,” said one man. “The elections have lost their colour because of rising prices, especially over the past two months. I don’t think they’ll be as sensational as in the past.”

The economy has nosedived in the last 18 months. Officially, inflation stands at 21 percent but critics say the real figure is 50 percent and tens of thousands of Iranians have lost their jobs.

It is partly a result of international sanctions on Iran’s oil industry and financial institutions because of Tehran’s nuclear programme. But that is not the only reason.

The axing of subsidies for basic foods and fuel has turned many against Ahmajinedad’s government.

But they are not necessarily voting for Khamenei’s candidates.

“I myself have never voted,” said another man. “I don’t think the votes of people like me will have an impact on the elections because I don’t have anyone who would represent me, who I would want to vote for. I mean, there is no one I could say speaks on my behalf in Parliament or the presidency.”

The rial is now worth just half of what it was against the dollar in December, despite measures taken by Iran’s central bank to shore it up. Iranians are at a loss to protect their savings while the government downplays the impact of sanctions.

But the apathy is not universal. Some Iranians see these problems as the very reason why they should vote.

“It is 100 percent our individual votes, which can be a force for change. In my opinion this is truly the right time to be present. I will vote 100 percent,” said a student.

A nationalist reflex against perceived external enemies may also help boost turnout, especially away from Tehran and other major cities. The message on one banner read: ‘The election represents the existence and the conscience of the nation.’

New Iranian parliament ‘less likely to compromise’
The 9th elections of Iran’s post-revolution parliament are steeped in controversy, reflecting the deep political divisions within the country.  The ballot is being boycotted by much of the opposition, but even if it was not, analysts say, many candidates would have been ruled out in the vetting process. For an insight into the vote  euronews’ Maria Sarsalari spoke to Iranian affairs analyst Ahmad Salamatian. 
euronews: Mr Salamatian this is, in fact, an election among the competing groups of the ruling system. How would you portray it?
Salamatian: Since a long time before the elections, several officials in the Islamic Republic, and the leader himself, have pointed out that they view these elections as a security challenge. In line with this view, the role of military and security agencies — the latter coming from units of the Revolutionary Guards  — has increased. Therefore, it can be said that in these elections, while the regime still maintains its fragmented nature, the main power struggle is among the security and military forces who are engineering these elections, and they will naturally be given a bigger share of the results.  Consequently, we can say that the future parliament will be, more than ever before, a parliament derived from security agencies or  political factions whose closeness to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) dominates all other aspects, including religious and ideological matters.
euronews: The Iranian parliamentary system has gone through a lot of upheaval since the day the house of representatives was founded more than a century ago. In this context, how do you assess the upcoming elections?
Salamatian: The House’s powers have been progressively reduced to the extent that Mr. Ahmadinejad felt he could defy Ayatollah Khomeini’s famous statement and say that the House is not above everything  anymore —Ayatollah Khomeini had a famous saying “the House stands above all affairs”— But experience has shown that the more the military-security agencies prevail, even if only at the initial stage of forming the parliament, it has shown in practice that these parliaments are having more problems.
In my opinion, the future parliament will not use its symbolic powers, but the tools it uses and its behaviour will be more of a military and security nature than political. Therefore, in future months, we can say that this parliament will turn into the stage for a power struggle amongst influential security and military-backed factions within the Islamic Republic.
euronews: Regarding the current tension between Iran and the West over Iran’s nuclear programme, will the election results bring any changes in Iran’s foreign policy?
Salamatian: Unfortunately, whenever the military and security organs are entrusted with making decisions during international crises and their views are given preference, tension has always increased as a result. For the same reason, there will be less potential in the future parliament for working on decreasing international crises. This will create a more complicated and dangerous situation regarding all the existing threats against Iran. Evidently, a military and security-orientated parliament will not have the political vision needed for solving international crises through dialogue, and this will, in fact, escalate these problems and the crisis affecting Iran and the region.