Election posters in Iran. Photo credit: Flickr/Beshef (CC BY 2.0)
Freedom House Rating
Presidential and Local Elections
June 24, 2020
February 2024 (due)
February 21, 2020 (Second round: September 11, 2020)
Presidential and Local Election
May 19, 2017
Iran has scheduled its next presidential election for June 18, 2021, with concurrent local elections.
Since 1979, when revolutionaries removed the Shah and installed the ayatollahs, Iran has been a theocracy that suppresses dissent and manipulates elections. The country’s elected institutions – parliament and the presidency – have less power than the unelected Supreme Leader and other unelected institutions. In that vein, all potential candidates for elected office must obtain approval from the Guardian Council of clerics, which habitually rejects a large number of applicants.
Nonetheless, Iran holds regular elections. The most recent, the 2020 legislative elections, took place in the context of increased tension with the United States, plus anti-government protests, followed by a brutal crackdown, plus the outbreak of COVID-19. Consequently, the regime rigged these elections even more than usual, with more than half of the people who applied to be candidates rejected (including 90 incumbents). Thus turnout, at 42 percent, was the lowest in the history of the Islamic Republic. The hardliners won the most seats, in a potential reversal of the 2016 elections, in which supposed reformers prevailed.
Despite the regime’s heavy hand, activists continue to advocate for democracy in Iran. In 2009, the pro-democracy Green Movement protested the obviously-rigged re-election of hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Millions of Iranians took to the streets in defiance of the security services, but by 2011, the regime had crushed the movement and put its leaders under house arrest, where they remain to this day.
Nonetheless, since 2017, Iran has been seeing increased protest against the regime. In addition to large demonstrations, groups use a variety of protest methods. For example, My Stealthy Freedom protests the mandatory hijab rule with its #WhiteWednesdays, in which women post photographs of themselves without headscarves. Its participants continue to defy the regime even under the threat of lengthy prison sentences.
Iran’s 2021 Presidential Election
Iran’s current president, Hassan Rouhani, characterized as a reformer, first won election in 2013, and won re-election in 2017. Due to term limits, he cannot run again in 2020. The field of potential candidates to replace him is still crowded.
Tensions between Iran and the United States have been escalating since May 2018.
Syed Zafar Mehdi, Andalou Agency (November 25, 2020): Iran’s top military figure announces presidential bid
Raz Zimmt, Atlantic Council (October 15, 2020): Will Iran let a woman run for president in 2021?
Sina Azodi, Atlantic Council (October 7, 2020): Hossein Dehghan and other military vets vie for Iran’s presidency
Behrouz Turani, Radio Farda (August 27, 2020): Who Are The Potential Reformist Candidates For Iran’s 2021 Presidential Election?
AP (August 24, 2020): Iran sets June 2021 date for presidential election to choose Rouhani successor
Holly Dagres, Atlantic Council (August 18, 2020): Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, former president turned ‘popstar,’ plans to run again
Bourse and Bazaar (July 2, 2020): Young Candidates Enter Fray for Iran Presidency
Dexter Filkins, The New Yorker (May 18, 2020): The Twilight of the Iranian Revolution
Behrouz Turani, Radio Farda (February 23, 2020): Iran’s Parliamentary Elections: Winners And Losers
Luke McGee, CNN (February 23, 2020): Iran’s elections are set to be dominated by hardliners. Here’s what that means
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Updated November 25, 2020