In a statement on Thursday, the Council, the most important decision-making body within the opposition Green Movement, praised the people’s turnout in opposition protests on 14 February, which it said was another sign that the Movement was still “alive and vibrant.” Numerous reports from the nation’s major cities suggested a “tight” security atmosphere, while some cities were compared to “military camps,” in reference to the sheer density of the presence of security agents and anti-riot police.
“It has also become clear that the autocrats’ espousal of the region’s freedom movements is nothing but a big lie and [in the regime’s eyes] the freedom to protest is good for everyone but the people of Iran.”
A top Mousavi aide and Council spokesperson Ardeshir Amir-Arjomand, told the BBC that the demonstrations were only “the beginning” of what was to come, indicating that new acts of protest were likely to be announced in the near future. He called on the authorities to submit to the people’s will and to hold free and fair elections in order to prevent a repeat of what occurred in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.
The Coordination Council members said that “those who invite the people to participate in the elections do not have the slightest regard for the people’s opinions, and when the first opportunity arises, they will seek to overthrow what’s left of republicanism and democracy [in Iran].”
The Council said that the authorities were trying to “provoke patriotic feelings amongst Iranians so as to cover up the many economic, social and political problems which they themselves have caused while avoiding accountability.”
“Taking part in rubber-stamp elections, which will encourage the dictatorship to continue with its policies against national [interests] and the people and thus consolidate tyranny, is not a revolutionary duty, but is rather contrary to the nation’s ideals in the 1979 Islamic Revolution,” it added. “Not participating in the elections is not a breach of Sharia [law].”
Addressing the country’s autocratic rulers, the Council statement went on to add: “Our people will defend the country in the face of foreign threats, but not you.
In addition to a full boycott, the Council also invited Green Movement supporters to make their presence felt in public spaces on the eve of parliamentary elections (1 March), with the purpose of “raising awareness” about the illegitimacy of the elections. “The Green Path of Hope will remain green until the very end and will not use its hope for prosperity for the people of this land.”
As the Majlis elections draw near, there is a growing concern amongst Iran’s ruling elite over a low turnout on voting day, especially as the rigged 2009 presidential election and its aftermath are still fresh in the people’s memory. The Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei recently called for the people’s mass participation in the elections.
This is the first time since the 1979 revolution that all major opposition groups and factions, including the country’s reformist parties are firmly backing an all-out boycott of the elections.
For its part, the outlawed Freedom Movement of Iran released a statement promoting the election boycott and compared the current situation to the period that followed the US-backed 1953 coup against the country’s democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh.
In the months after the coup d’état, a group of Mosaddegh supporters joined forces to set up the National Resistance Movement that sought to further the aspirations of the Freedom Movement, the most central of those goals being Iran’s independence and fighting corruption.
“It is regrettable, that 105 years after the Constitutional Movement of Iran and 33 years after the victory of the Islamic Revolution, it is still not possible to hold free, sound and fair elections in Iran and the majority of Iranians are deprived of choosing their real representatives,” FMI statement said.
The head of the group’s political bureau Mohammad Tavassoli has been in prison for the past four months and its ailing secretary general Ebrahim Yazi, was sentenced to eight years in prison after enduring months of illegal imprisonment.
Two other major reformist groups, the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organisation and the Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF also known as Mosharekat) have also called on Iranians to stay away from polling stations on Election Day.
Calling it an “orchestrated campaign of deceit,” former reformist lawmaker Ali Mazrooei, told the Green Voice of Freedom that the elections were only a desperate attempt designed to win legitimacy for the hard-line elite in power.
Nader Hashemi, an Assistant Professor of Middle East and Islamic Politics at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, and author of The People Reloaded: The Green Movement and the Struggle for Iran’s Future, told GVF that “while the rest of the region is moving in the direction of democracy, the regime in Iran moving in the opposition direction.”
“The truth that everyone knows, including leaders of the Islamic Republic,” he continued, “is these upcoming elections will not be free and fair. How can they be when the opposition Green Movement is boycotting them?” He predicted that the forthcoming elections would “resemble elections under Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt. They are stage-managed elections meant to give the impression that the regime has political legitimacy. Evidence that these elections will be a farce and that voter turnout will be low can be seen in many places. For example, Mohammad Reza Naghdi, head of the Basij force—two weeks before the elections—has already congratulated the people of Iran for the ‘epic’ participation in the elections!”
Campaigning for the elections officially began on Thursday and will last a week. Like any election in the Islamic Republic, candidates first have to go through a screening process, something pro-democracy activists dismiss as “unfair” and “undemocratic.” Thus far, around 1,200 candidates have been disqualified from the race, including 35 currently serving MPs. Among the disqualified names are Seyed Shahabeddin Sadr (Tehran), Mahmoud Ahmadi Bighash, Seyed Ahmadreza Dastgheib, Soleiman Jafarzadeh (Maku) and Abdolreza Moradi (Mamasani).
The Green Movement’s leaders, currently under house arrest, have cast doubt over the legitimacy of the vote. During one rare meetings with his daughters, former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi told his daughter that, “Under status quo, one can’t be hopeful about the upcoming [parliamentary] elections and taking part in them,” promising, at the same time that “the future is bright.” Mahdi Karroubi, another other opposition leader in captivity, voiced similar sentiments during a visitation with his wife Fatemeh Karroubi. The former parliament speaker dismissed the elections as nothing more than a “sham,” adding that the authorities were “fully aware of the people’s wrath and dissatisfaction and want to hold rubber-stamp elections by disqualifying [candidates] and certain polling stations, while stuffing ballot boxes with counterfeit votes and then suppressing and arresting [protesters] as well as stirring up terror and fear and enforcing a security [atmosphere] in the country.” The veteran reformer warned of a repeat of the 2009 elections and its aftermath, but said he believed that the Iranian people were informed about the “the nature of the theatrical display.”
In December 2011, former reformist President Mohammad Khatami backed statements made by Ali Mohammad Gharibani, president of Coordination Council of the Reformist Front, who had announced that the country’s pro-reform factions would not be participating in the parliamentary race. He said the council had “decided not to present a unified list [of candidates] and not to support anyone [in the vote].”
“My opinion is the same as the council’s, which is that the reformists cannot and must not have candidates and a unified list in the elections … I don’t speak on behalf of anyone. I think that all indicators suggest that we must not take part in the elections.”