On May 19, Iran will hold a presidential “election.”
To put this in perspective, the first election in Iran was held after the Constitutional Revolution of 1906, and after the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. But with the exceptions of two short periods of national government under Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq in the early 1950s and the failed 1980 presidential election following the overthrow of the Shah, no Iranian election in more than a hundred years has been free or worthy of being taken seriously. Tomorrow is no different, with candidates handpicked by the Supreme Leader and his cronies in a bit of cruel theater masquerading as choice.
The election scenario is clear. The Guardian Council of velayat-e faqih (the system of absolute rule by the Supreme Leader) which is a combination of twelve individuals, six of whom are clerics who have been appointed, has qualified six individuals from scores of famous and infamous registrants. In this way, the people’s choice has already been made. Out of the 1,600 who registered as candidates and the six who have been approved to run, four have only theatrical roles. Everybody knows the two main players are the incumbent President Hassan Rouhani and Ebrahim Raisi, another mullah.
Thanks to the clerical rule, those like me who have tasted imprisonment and torture are not few, and whoever has been imprisoned is familiar with the game of doves and hawks of the interrogators. One interrogator comes with whips and cables to torture and threaten; the second comes with a cup of tea and soft words and advice. But both have one demand: the surrender of the prisoner and acceding to the interrogator’s demand.
Think of Iran today as a huge prison replete with a good cop/bad cop scenario. Rouhani talks about dialogue, rationality and moderation, and appears with a smile in front of the camera and shakes the hands of his Western counterparts. But domestically, he declines to address harsh economic problems or reduce the number of people going to the gallows.
Raisi is the designated hardliner. He is notorious as one of the architects of the 1988 massacre in which human rights groups estimate more than 30,000 political prisoners, most of them activists of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), were killed in the span of a few months. They were massacred simply for maintaining their political convictions and despite the fact that many of them had already served their assigned prison terms.
This is the Iranian people’s “choice” tomorrow. At the end of the day, the winner of the election is meaningless, beholden as they are to velayat-e faqih, which is as cruel and repressive as it has ever been. Indeed, nothing will be achieved from the “vote” because real democracy has not appeared in the country.
This charade will continue as long as Iran is not on track to achieve the establishment of a democratic society. The world has been silent on this election, giving tacit consent to the notion that either democracy doesn’t matter in Iran, or worse: that a mere vote should satisfy our aspirations for freedom.
The Iranian people, therefore, have no other option than to look outside of the regime to develop a democratic society while struggling to regain lost freedoms. In my view, the first step toward this goal is boycotting the current election and condemning any participation in the political theater scheduled for May 19.
The United States should stand with the Iranian people and publicly dismiss Iran’s attempts to hide a dictatorship behind the veil of a fraudulent vote.
Arzhang Davoodi is an Iranian democracy activist, teacher, and author. He is currently in an Iranian prison serving a 15-year sentence that was handed down in 2005 after his criticism of human rights conditions. In 2012, he was charged with “enmity against God,” a political offense that can carry a death sentence.