Tehran’s Local Elections Attract Low Voter Turnout

Nearly 510,000 people voted in the fifth local council elections in Tehran on July 24, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported, citing Ali Atta, the Spokesman for the Tehran City Council.

Less than 10 percent of the 5.5 million eligible voters, however, took part in the elections, which saw 12,030 candidates competing in 353 constituencies. The Local Council Election Committee announced the final results on July 28.

Some analysts argue that boycotting the elections was an ineffective strategy. They believe that the high number of candidates was a deliberate strategy to encourage more voter turnout, especially with people who took part in the elections in tightly knit communities. However, the results contradict this assertion.

At a news conference on July 28, the head of the Elections Executive Committee Javadi Yeganeh said: “Fortunately, we have witnessed widespread and high voter turnout.”

While the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) and other state media outlets have tried to highlight the high voter turnout, other news websites have disputed the claim.

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“The Massive Failure of the Council Elections,” was the headline of the Tehran-based Alef online news website on July 28. “After months of political propaganda, residents of Tehran finally went to the polls on July 26 to vote in the city’s local council elections.”

Alef added: “The most significant part of the elections was that it had the support of the reformists and the List of Hope [also known as the Pervasive Coalition of Reformists, the Second Step, by former President Mohammad Khatami]. That is why we must regard these elections as the most important criteria for the public to measure the performance of the Tehran City Council and the local councils. However, not only were Tehran residents not enthusiastic about the elections, but their apathy turned the elections into a massive failure.”

“The main reason for the low voter turnout in the local elections rests squarely on the shoulders of Tehran City Council members, who have failed to manage the city effectively,” Alef noted.

Both reformists and conservatives could only secure votes in districts that comprise mostly religious and Basij families with close ties to the regime. People in other precincts did not bother to vote. The city released the results of the elections, showing the number of voters in each district.

“The community of Golshan and Tehran Pars West in District 4 had the highest voter turnout with 38,000 people, followed closely by 30,000 in District 5 and 29,000 in District 15,” ISNA said citing Tehran Mayor Pirouz Hanachi. “However, based on the electoral population ratio in each precinct, Nematabad and Shokufeh in District 19, Khazaneh in District 16, and districts 12 and 18 showed the highest voter turnout.”

“Nearly 23 percent of the voters belonged to trade associations, another 4 percent were housewives, 10 percent in real estate, 2 percent university students, 15 percent government employees, 5 percent lawyers, 5 percent doctors, and 2 percent city workers,” IRNA reported citing Seyyed Arash Milani, the deputy director of Tehran Local Councils Coordination Headquarters. “The Tehran City Council had earmarked $1.5 million for these elections in its 2018 budget.”

Mr. Milani added: “There were no council elections held in the constituencies of Ghasre Firouzeh [residents are predominantly Army Air Force officers and personnel and their families] and Zainabiyeh [many Army Ground Forces officers and personnel and their families live in this neighborhood.] The electoral population ratio did not correspond to the number of candidates in these districts.”

“Almost 70 percent of the candidates in the elections are working for the city, and they and their families are members of the [reformist] Union of Islamic Iran People Party,” Tasnim News Agency reported, citing Morteza Talaie, the former deputy chairman of the Tehran City Council. “Only 27 percent of the candidates have public service experience in their respective constituencies.”

There have been unconfirmed reports about voting irregularities in some precincts including those in Iranshahr neighborhood of District 6.

“The Review Committee of the Tehran City Council investigates these reports,” semi-official Fars news agency reported citing Mr. Mahjoob, the head of the Tehran Local Councils Coordination Headquarters’ Elections Review. “They forward their findings to our office, and we will take legal actions against any cases of fraud. Therefore, we must receive the committee’s report on the alleged voting irregularities in District 6 before we can take any action.”

Azar Mansouri, Sajedeh Kianooshrod, Mohammad Salari, and Javad Daliri are reformists who are members of or affiliated with the Union of Islamic Iran People Party. In a series of tweets, they urged the public to vote. Emad Bahavar is a member of the Council of Nationalist-Religious Activists of Iran (also known as the Coalition of National-Religious Forces of Iran). He posted a picture of his wife and child at a polling station. Kayhan Life has used a box to cover the child’s eyes in the photograph to protect his right as a minor.

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@Salari_Mohammad tweeted: “The Interior Ministry has approved the Tehran City Council’s request to hold local council elections. We praise the efforts by Mohsen Hashemi [Rafsanjani, the chairman of the Tehran City Council] and [Interior Minister Abdolreza] Rahmani Fazli’s help.”

@Azar_Mansouri tweeted: “Councils are civil institutions and should not be politicized. They are responsible for the fair distribution of resources, providing equal opportunities, remaining transparent, strengthening public services, and battling corruption and nepotism. Register before the deadline. Also, encourage all eligible voters to take part.”

@Sajedeh_Kianooshrod tweeted: “Tehran starts with its streets.”

@negarby tweeted: “Local council elections play a significant role in promoting social unity, progress and greater participation of residents. Do not miss the opportunity to have a say in your future. Vote for conscientious individuals. Tehran starts with its streets.”

@Javaddaliri tweeted: “The elections show that a segment of the population, particularly women and young people believe that the ballot boxes will decide their future.”

@Samad_Khatibi tweeted: “I voted in the local council elections yesterday. These were important elections. Electing the right people could have a positive impact on our lives.”

@emad_Bahavar tweeted: “The next generation should be able to determine its fate at the ballot boxes in free and transparent elections.”

[Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi]