Iran’s rulers face legitimacy test amid growing dissent ahead of elections

Iran’s parliamentary election is seen as a significant assessment of the clerical establishment’s standing amidst growing dissent over various issues. Critics argue that economic hardships and limited electoral choices challenge the legitimacy of Iran’s theocratic system.

Iran’s upcoming parliamentary election, scheduled for Friday, is viewed as a crucial test of the clerical establishment’s popularity amidst growing dissent over various political, social, and economic challenges. It represents the first formal assessment of public sentiment since widespread anti-government protests between 2022 and 2023, marking a significant period of political upheaval since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Critics, both within and outside the ruling elite, including politicians and former lawmakers, argue that Iran’s theocratic system’s legitimacy is under scrutiny due to economic hardships and limited electoral choices, particularly concerning a predominantly young population seeking greater political and social freedoms.


Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has urged Iranians to vote, framing it as a religious obligation, while also accusing the country’s adversaries, typically the United States and Israel, of attempting to undermine voter morale. Hossein Salami, commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, likened each vote to a strike against the enemy.

However, Iranians remain wary due to memories of the harsh suppression of nationwide unrest triggered by the death of a young Iranian-Kurdish woman in custody in 2022. Economic challenges exacerbate the situation, with many disillusioned by the ruling clerics’ inability to address the crisis caused by U.S. sanctions, mismanagement, and corruption.

While hardline candidates may garner support from establishment backers, widespread frustration over deteriorating living standards and pervasive corruption could deter voter turnout. Soaring prices of essential goods and an inflation rate officially at 40% (but believed to be higher) further contribute to public discontent.

The U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal and subsequent re-imposition of sanctions have severely impacted Iran’s economy, with attempts to revive the agreement proving unsuccessful.

Iranian activists and opposition groups are promoting the Twitter hashtag #VOTENoVote on social media, advocating against participation to avoid legitimizing the Islamic Republic. With prominent moderates and conservatives abstaining, Friday’s election will feature a contest between hardliners and low-key conservatives, all professing loyalty to Iran’s revolutionary ideals.

The interior ministry disclosed that 15,200 candidates are vying for the 290 parliamentary seats, with the Guardian Council, dominated by figures aligned with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, approving 75% of the initial hopefuls. The Guardian Council, consisting of clerics and legal experts, also influences candidate selection and legislation.

Results may be delayed as ballots are mainly counted manually, but preliminary results may emerge sooner. Simultaneously, Iranians will vote for the Assembly of Experts, responsible for appointing and dismissing the supreme leader.

Despite Parliament’s limited influence on foreign policy and nuclear matters, Khamenei wields significant power in Iran’s dual system of clerical and republican rule.

Projections suggest a turnout of around 41%, with some surveys indicating participation as low as 27%, contrasting with 2020’s 42%. The pro-reform opposition, discredited due to failed efforts to expand freedoms and criticized amid protests in 2022, has declined to participate but has not officially boycotted the election.