Son of former Iran president says its democracy undermined from within

Son of former Iran president says its democracy undermined from within

Yasser Rafsanjani says regime elements ‘outside the parliament’ preventing change in government, after latest vote sees record-low turnout, surge for hardliners

A voter registers to cast her vote during the parliament elections at a polling station in Tehran, Iran, February 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
A voter registers to cast her vote during the parliament elections at a polling station in Tehran, Iran, February 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Yasser Rafsanjani, the son of the influential former Iranian president Akbar Rafsanjani, said his country’s democracy was undermined by elements of the regime “outside the parliament” which were failing to deliver the kind of change sought by the Iranian people.

“People vote when they think it will create change,” Rafsanjani told the British daily The Guardian in an interview published Sunday.

“The people felt they kept sending a message to the government but they are not heard,” Rafsanjani said. “In the last elections, people voted for a parliament to bring change, and it did not happen, but there are forces outside the parliament – politicians, military guards – that limit the power of the parliament.”

He lamented that “democracy has become a eunuch. It has been castrated. Our society is somehow sick. We are infected by viruses… such as coronavirus but also a societal virus where people do not respect others.”

Yasser Rafsanjani (Wikipedia)

Yasser’s father Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani served as Iran’s president from 1989 until 1997, but fell out of favor with the regime in his later years, till his death in 2017. Two of Yasser’s siblings have been imprisoned for criticizing the conservative theocratic regime.

In the interview, conducted in Tehran, Rafsanjani tells the Guardian that his father viewed Iranian “hardliners” opposed to the 2015 nuclear deal and American hawks likewise opposed to the agreement as de facto allies.

“My father said to President Hassan Rouhani when he signed the joint comprehensive plan of action, or the Iranian nuclear deal, this agreement has four main enemies: the Arab countries that have enough money to spend, Israel lobbying in the US, Republican hardliners in the US, and hardliners in Iran. The hardliners in the US and Iran have in effect been cooperating with one another.

The interview comes after Friday’s parliamentary elections in Iran, which saw record low turnout of 42.6 percent, as well as a surge in victories for conservative elements of the regime.

Iran has a severely restricted electoral system in which a Guardian Council of clerics answerable to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei can disqualify any candidate from running. About half of all candidates, or more than 7,000, were disqualified from running in Friday’s race, most of them reformists and moderates. Among those disqualified were 90 sitting members of Iran’s 290-seat Parliament who had wanted to run for re-election.

Akbar Rafsanjani himself was disqualified from running for the presidency in 2013.

Iranian former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani at a press conference in Tehran, December 21, 2015. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)

The election showed a loss of faith in the system, Rafsanjani contended, and that “Iranian hardliners are getting stronger.”

While railing against US President Donald Trump as “insane,” he nevertheless urged support for engaging the international community and negotiating with the United States.

“I believe in negotiations, and the JCPOA showed if you want to talk to the world you have go to the table,” Rafsanjani said. “Sometimes I tell some of my friends that we would have had to face Donald Trump, with or without the JCPOA, and if anything it helps prevent some of his most insane illegal acts.”

He added: “I accept negotiations at any time. When we signed the JCPOA in 2015, our economy began to grow, and it did so year after year.”

The Trump administration withdrew from the landmark deal in 2018 and has imposed crippling sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Hardliners won all 30 parliamentary seats in the capital, Tehran, state TV reported on Sunday.

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei casts his ballot in the parliamentary elections, in Tehran, Iran, February 21, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

State TV said that former Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, a top contender for the post of parliamentary speaker, was the top winner in the capital, with more that 1.2 million votes.

Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said the participation rate was “acceptable” for Iran after it experienced bad weather, an air disaster, a coronavirus outbreak and other incidents in the lead-up to Friday’s election.

The turnout is widely seen as a measure of how Iranians view the country’s embattled theocratic government. The low turnout could signal widespread dissatisfaction with Iran’s clerical rulers and the system they preside over.

Iran’s supreme leader early Sunday accused enemy “propaganda” of trying to dissuade people from voting by amplifying the threat of the coronavirus.

A range of crises has beset Iran in the past year, including widespread anti-government protests in November and US sanctions piling pressure on the plunging economy.

Anti-government protesters attend a demonstration at the Tehran University campus in Tehran, Iran, January 14, 2020. (Vahid Salemi/AP)

On the eve of the vote in Iran, the Trump administration sanctioned five election officials and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed the election as a “sham.”

In remarks from his office in Tehran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed the “negative propaganda” of Iran’s enemies for trying to discourage people from voting in Friday’s elections.

“Their media did not ignore the tiniest opportunity for discouraging people and resorting to the pretext of diseases and the virus,” he said.

Iran reported its first case of the virus two days before the national polls, and eight deaths have been reported due to the virus since then. That’s the highest death toll from the virus outside of China, where the outbreak first emerged a couple months ago.

Iran has confirmed 43 cases in total in at least five different cities, including the capital, Tehran, where some pharmacies have already run out of masks and hand sanitizer.

Iranians, some wearing protective masks, wait to cross a street in the capital Tehran on February 22, 2020 (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

Schools were shut down in Tehran and across 10 provinces for at least two days, starting Sunday, to prevent the spread of the virus. Authorities have also suspended football matches and stopped shows in movie theaters and other venues.

Officials across Iran had encouraged people to vote in the days leading up to the election, even as concerns over the virus’s spread began to rise.

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