Iran's March 2 parliamentary election, usually considered a low-key event compared to the presidential election, is now considered one of the most important elections in the revolution's history. "The nation is under threat," supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said to his supporters in Tehran on Wednesday. "We need to slap the enemy's face hard by showing massive participation in this coming election."
Since 2005, Iran has witnessed a rise in militarization and a massive empowerment of the Revolutionary Guard Corp. If the majority of parliamentary seats fall into the hands of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei's supporters, this election will radicalize the system even more. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has a year and half left in office, will also depend on the support he could gain from this new parliament. The Iranian president has struggled with the current parliament for almost seven years, being threatened with questioning and even impeachment. If a new parliament made up of a majority of his supporters comes to power, his fights with Iranian lawmakers can finally subside.
All state channels are full of propaganda, advertising the parliamentary elections and advocating how important it is for people to participate. Iran's National Anthem, the Iranian flag, and even some older songs remembered as a source of nationalism, are frequently being broadcast. State news reporters walk the streets to ask random men and women -- young and old -- if they will cast their votes. Everyone shown on TV says yes, before saying that Iran's "enemies" have their eye on this election and will use it as a tool against the country if the people don't show up at the polling stations. Footage shown by State TV to encourage voters includes clips of elderly senior Ayatollahs, such as Nouri Hamadani and Bayat Zanjani, telling people that partaking in this election is a religious obligation.
Demonstrating Iran's national unity is more important to Ayatollah Khamenei than the election itself. "Participation in this election comes even before the candidates," Ayatollah Khamenei said on Feb 29.
This year, the competition for parliament is between no one except the supporters of the regime and Ayatollah Khamenei. Well-known Reformist figures said they would participate only if political prisoners were released and opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi were released from house arrest, where they have remained for over a year. None of those requests were fulfilled and so Reformers decided to boycott the election and presented no candidates for the 9th parliamentary election. Other Reformist groups, such as the Nationalist Religious Movement, are also boycotting the election and have decided not to cast their votes on March 2nd. Hence, only conservative candidates will compete for seats.
In general, few laws can be passed and no significant changes can take place in Iran without the approval of Iran's supreme leader, who has power beyond the Iranian constitution. There is one tool and one issue which is so important to all Iranians in spite of all their political differences: peace. Once the Iranian public believes the nation is facing an undoubted security threat, the people will unite wholeheartedly. Within the government, even clashes between speaker of parliament Ali Larijani and President Ahmadinejad were eventually toned down by the supreme leader, who would intervene to tell both sides to keep quiet and appear united for the "sake of the system."
With the state's massive advertisements, loud appeals to the public and religious demands, many people will likely come out and take part in the elections, in spite of all the requests by the opposition within and outside of Iran to boycott the election.
Perhaps this is what the supreme leader is counting on at this time. People will go to cast their votes, for fear of an unwanted war. Already, their standard of living is low, and with a potential war knocking on their door, their lives could become a disaster.
The ninth parliamentary election is therefore critical in the eyes of the Iranian regime, not the people. Ayatollah Khamenei and others can hijack this sort of national unity and advertise it for their own popularity. He knows, and the people are aware of, this reality. When it comes down to it, saving Iran will be more important than whoever ends up in parliament.