Is the Iran after elections farthest from Europe?

Employment and Social Affairs

Iran held its 11th parliamentary elections since the foundation of the Islamic Republic in 1979, the first since United States administration renewed sanctions against Tehran. The voting turnout was the lowest since 1979, just a bit over 40%, and the alliance of conservative candidates won clearly.

Fears due to the spread of coronavirus in this country, where even the vice President has contracted the virus, had an impact in this low participation but also discontent with the government was a factor in this trend. Both Interior Minister and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei cited the virus as a reason for lower turnout, and attacked the “western media” for using coronavirus as an excuse to discourage people from voting.

In Tehran about 75 percent of the voters chose not to vote, but all 30 seats were won by the conservative candidates loyal to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Another factor in the low turnout has been mass disqualification of the reformist candidates, including about 80 sitting MPs, meant that many reformists boycotted the vote. The reformist faction had refused to endorse any candidates in 22 out of 31 provinces, including Tehran.

Furthermore, many Iranians were disillusioned with the government because of growing economic difficulties, caused by US sanctions and corruption, as well as the episode related to the killing of a demonstrators during the November 2019 protests and the downing of the Ukraine Airlines flight. The brutal crackdown, in November 2019 (1.000 people dead and 7.000 arrested), against those Iranian citizens who took to the streets to express their discontent with a 200 per cent increase in fuel prices, damaged the regime’s legitimacy.

Considering that President Rouhani and his cabinet were incapable of delivering their promise to build a new era of prosperity also because of the pressure from US sanctions, Tehran could now think  of abandoning the line to be open toward Western investment and trade and it could seek to focus, instead, on regional markets. This stance, led by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, promotes an “Economy of Resistance” that relies on internal markets and trade with friendly neighbouring states such as Iraq and the Central Asian republics. According to this vision, Iran will always be vulnerable to economic pressure if it relies on Western commerce, while strengthening trade relations with other countries will be more independent and shielded from Western actions.

This is not good news for the EU that in the latest years tried to bring Iran closer through a nuclear deal, facing in this a strong objection from the US that are clearly against Tehran leadership. And this is not good news even for Iranian people, namely the youngest one, that could catch more easily opportunity to work and interrelate with Europe if relations between their country and the West are open and friendly. The parliament in Tehran has a limited role in foreign relations, thus these elections will have little impact on Iran’s regional policies. But as the more moderate elements are out from the political system, Iran will likely be led more and more by conservatives’ forces.

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