A voter registration station in Tehran, December 2019 (Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA-EFE)

Less than a week before the February 21 Parliamentary elections, Iran’s officials are betraying concern about a low turnout amid the mass disqualification of reformist candidates.

Frud Bezhan of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty summarizes the tension, even as institutions like the Guardian Council are ensuring a reversal of the 2016 outcome when centrists and reformists took the largest share of seats in the Majlis.

The Council has blocked about half of the 16,000 candidates. It had barred even more, including 92 current MPs, but President Hassan Rouhani publicly chided, “They should at least let there be competition and high turnout.”

The Council, whose 12 members are named by the Supreme Leader and judiciary, then reinstated about 2,000 candidates.

Still, reformists say 90% of their applicants have been barred.

See also Iran Daily, Feb 3: Guardian Council Steps Back After Rouhani’s Criticism Over Ban on Candidates

Rouhani appealed to a crowd on Tuesday, the 41st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, “I beg you not to be passive.”

The Supreme Leader has appealed for a high turnout as a display to Iran’s “enemies”, insisting that it will solve all of Iran’s economic and social problems.

Rouhani’s spokesman Ali Rabiei said, as the Council disqualified candidates, “The upcoming elections are the most important elections in the history of the Islamic Republic. The only way to prevent the collapse of Iran is by going to the polls.”

Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, the Friday Prayers Leader in Iran’s second city Mashhad, tried another approach: “Those who do not take part in the elections will go to hell.”

But a February 5 poll by the state-run News Network indicated almost 80% of respondents will not participate in the elections. The initial survey was deleted, but later polls had similar results.

The polls were again removed, with a News Network presenter saying that the Telegram channel for the surveys was fake.

Bezhan quotes EA’s Scott Lucas:

Turnout is more important than who takes the majority of seats in Parliament.

Khamenei tipped off that priority when he appealed for a high turnout as a message to Iran’s enemies. The question is to what extent the regime will massage the turnout figures to get the magic number that it wants to declare victory over those enemies — both at home and abroad.