Iran – 45 Years Since the Revolution / Iranians Disappointed with Both Conservatives, Reformists Ahead of Parliamentary Election on March 1

Yuji Yoshikata / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Mahmoud Sadeghi

This is the third and final installment of a series examining the current state of the “revolutionary regime,” which pushes back against public discontent with hardline policies.


On the icy cold morning of Feb. 1, with a temperature of just 1 C, senior members of the Islamic Association of Instructors of Universities, a reformist political party, gathered in a central Tehran building. There, party members confirmed that they would not participate in the March 1 parliamentary election.

Among those present was Mahmoud Sadeghi, a former member of parliament. Sadeghi had decided not to run even before the election schedule was announced on Aug. 1, 2023.

“Voters can only cast ballots for those who have been prescreened,” Sadeghi said. “The election is meaningless.”

The Guardian Council, Iran’s constitutional watchdog, oversees elections and legislation from the perspective of the Constitution and Islamic principles. The 12-member council conducts a preliminary screening of election candidates and has been dominated by hard-line conservatives. Six of its members are directly appointed by Iran’s supreme leader.

In the previous parliamentary election in 2020, many reformists and others were disqualified, resulting in a landslide victory by conservative hard-liners. Then incumbent Sadeghi was disqualified because he was said to be “not dedicated to the Islamic Republic.”

Parliamentary elections in Iran are not conducted on a party-by-party basis. Parties and organizations with common policies compile their candidates to form a unified list for the entire nation. The “non-participation” policy by the Islamic Association of Instructors of Universities meant it would not create a list of candidates, as it did not expect to have any likely winners. Reformists are increasingly giving up on trying to win elections.

Yuji Yoshikata / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Members of the Islamic Association of Instructors of Universities meet in Tehran on Feb. 1.

Mass reinstatement

Nearly half of the people who registered as candidates for the March election were disqualified through the first screening by November and the second screening by January. This will be the the first national election since the 2022 crackdown on protests against forcing women to wear hijab scarves that conceal their hair, and attention will be focused on the voters’ “judgement” regarding government oppression.

Turnout has been predicted to fall below the previous record low of 42.57%.

A few days after the meeting of the Islamic Association of Instructors of Universities, the Guardian Council began announcing, in stages, a total of about 4,000 certified candidates. People who were at one point disqualified had been reinstated.

The council praised itself, saying, “This is an unprecedented number of certified candidates in our country’s elections.” However, it is obvious that the mass reinstatement was unnatural.

As the legitimacy of the election is being questioned, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been strongly calling since late last year for the active participation of the public and political parties, as he did with past elections.

Masoud Pezeshkian, a reformist incumbent member of parliament elected from Tabriz in the northwest area of Iran, said: “I was disqualified for ‘non-dedication to the Islamic Republic,’ but I was reinstated. I heard that the supreme leader called for my situation to be reconsidered.” The truth is unknown.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Sense of stagnation

Conservative hardliners have thoroughly suppressed reformists in parliament. Esma’il Kowsari, an incumbent member of parliament and a hard-line conservative, said: “There are some reformists who want a regime change. They are not resisting the United States either.”

Reformists distance themselves from conservative hard-liners through their emphasis on a market economy and diplomacy dialogue, but they support the revolutionary regime in the same way as conservatives. People see the conflict between conservative hard-liners and reformists as a “political game.”

“I won’t vote. I voted in past elections, but nothing changed,” said a 36-year-old male employee of a government-affiliated gas company.

Some people have decided to leave their homeland and live elsewhere. A Tehran homemaker woman said, “Women cannot work free from anxiety in this country.”

She sent her 17-year-old daughter to Canada last year to study there, eyeing future immigration to the country. A sense of stagnation has been spreading among people in Iran.