February 29, 2024 | Flash Brief

Iran to Hold Parliamentary Elections but May Face Low Turnout

February 29, 2024 | Flash Brief

Iran to Hold Parliamentary Elections but May Face Low Turnout

Latest Developments

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on February 28 called for mass turnout in Iran’s elections on March 1. Yet even government polling indicates that the majority of Iranians will boycott the contest for Iran’s 290-seat parliament, formally known as the Islamic Consultative Assembly, and 88-seat Assembly of Experts, a body tasked with selecting the country’s next supreme leader. This contest will mark the first nationwide elections since the anti-regime protests, known as the “Women, Life, Freedom” movement, that rocked the country from 2022 to 2023, which were triggered by the killing of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini for allegedly wearing her headscarf improperly.

Expert Analysis

“It should come as no surprise that as street protests have increased, the amount of popular participation in Iran’s choreographed elections have decreased. For a population that chastised both reformists and principalists in their slogans for over half a decade, voting in a system like Iran’s would be seen as lending a bankrupt regime a new lease on life.” — Behnam Ben Taleblu, FDD Senior Fellow

“Over the past few years, we have observed two key trends in Iran. The Iranian people have shifted from the reform discourse to the revolution discourse, while the regime has opted to restructure itself as a non-competitive authoritarian regime, foregoing the burden of presenting a competitive authoritarian facade. Consequently, elections are of little concern to a majority of Iranians. This trend has rendered the regime more rigid, less flexible, and solely reliant on brute force.” — Saeed Ghasseminejad, FDD Senior Advisor on Iran and Financial Economics

The Politics of Turnout

Elections in Iran, though neither free nor fair, have been common features of the Islamic Republic since 1979. Regime officials take advantage of participation, however limited, to feign legitimacy abroad, discourage street protests, and even bolster deterrence against foreign pressure. Tehran pays close attention to turnout following massive demonstrations as was the case with the 2012 parliamentary elections that followed Iran’s stolen 2009 presidential election.

The past two electoral contests, for parliament in 2020 and for president in 2021, have notched the lowest-ever official turnout rates in the history of the Islamic Republic. These contests followed nationwide anti-regime demonstrations from 2017 to 2020 triggered by social, economic, environmental, and even foreign policy grievances.

Currently, out of Iran’s reported 85 million population, an estimated 61 million are eligible to vote. But if trends continue, turnout is expected to be low. Even an unnamed Iranian government agency cited by a semi-official Iranian press outlet recently claimed that turnout would hover around 30 percent and that in Tehran, the number would be less than 15 percent. This marks another record-setting low and another indication that the population does not believe change can come from a rigged ballot box. It also suggests that calls for boycotts, be they from Nobel Prize winners or exiled dissidents, might be having an impact.

Regime Consolidation

Regardless of turnout, the regime appears intent on using electoral contests to continue to contract the limited political space in the system. For example, Iran’s Guardian Council, which vets candidates for office, even disqualified former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani from competing for a seat on the Assembly of Experts. Interestingly, that assembly failed to garner a broad swath of candidates, with a reported 144 candidates registered for 88 seats — less than 2 candidates per seat. And out of Iran’s 31 provinces, a reported 18 of them are not competitive.

Iran’s hardliners look to consolidate control in parliamentary election,” by Behnam Ben Taleblu

Why Does The Islamic Republic Of Iran Hold Elections?” by Saeed Ghasseminejad

Evolution Toward Revolution: The Development of Street Protests In The Islamic Republic of Iran,” by Saeed Ghasseminejad, Behnam Ben Taleblu, and Eliora Katz

Khamenei is Iran’s most important voter, and he wants more extremism, not less,” by Saeed Ghasseminejad and Behnam Ben Taleblu


Iran Iran Politics and Economy