Blank Ballots Signal Crack in Regime’s Control

In Iran, a boycott of the regime’s sham election was part of a more significant protest against the policies of its leadership. However, for those who showed up to vote, the unprecedented large number of blank ballots signal the people’s dismay with the regime and its Supreme Leader.

This dissatisfaction and absence of trust created a negative dichotomy between the people and the government, which reached its highest today. Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami called the (unprecedented) unwillingness of more than 50% of the people to vote and the presence of the highest percentage of blank ballots as an important event and said: “If this is not a sign of dismay, disappointment, and dissatisfaction of the people towards the government, then what could it be called? What is it indicative of?”

According to statistics provided by the Iranian regime, 62% of the eligible voters did not participate in the recent presidential election. This turnout echoes the voting in the parliamentary elections in March 2009 in which 62% or 33 million eligible people did not participate. Most people in Iran’s living conditions are worsening as days and weeks pass by. The prediction was that the presidential election would face the same low turnout destiny as the March 2009 parliamentary election turned out to be true.

While the Islamic Republic has a dark history of providing accurate statistics, transparency on all levels is one of its worst traits. Iran’s chains of lies regarding the Ukrainian plane crash, the actual death toll in the widespread mid-November 2019 uprising, and the falsified number of coronavirus victims are just a few examples of the lack of transparency. The Iranian opposition, citing 1,200 reports from 400 Iranian cities and thousands of videos and photos from different voting constituencies, declared that the Iranian regime’s number of those who voted in the presidential election is five times higher than the real number. The actual number of participants in this year’s vote was less than ten percent.

According to statistics provided by the regime, more than 4 million of those who voted cast blank ballots because of fear of intimidation, including prison, interrogation, and other abuses. These people went to the polling stations and had their identification paper stamped to avoid further punitive measures. However, they did not vote for anyone. It has been noted that many of these blank ballots were from members of the revolutionary guards, paramilitary Bassij forces, and servicemen who see the Supreme Leader’s weakness and desperation. As a result, they are losing confidence in him.

This unprecedented purposeful gesture by a portion of the population considered the main body that the regime depends on and supporting them for many years is the first of its nature in the 40-year reign of the mullah’s regime in Iran.

Call for a Boycott
It worth noting that before the election, Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei had issued a fatwa, saying that voting is a religious obligation and opting not to vote is considered a great sin. Despite all regime’s propaganda, intimidations, hollow promises, bribes, and more, the people’s call for the election boycott was welcomed by the people. It showed itself in the final tally.

In any situation that the Supreme Leader’s fatwa is ignored by the people and loses its pull and effectiveness, the presence and influence of Iran’s opposition become very evident, and this is an alarm for the Supreme Leader and the entire regime.

The Iranian opposition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, claims that its resistance units have rapidly expanded throughout Iran since the mid-November 2019 uprising and have spread the message of election boycott among people successfully.

Three-quarters of the people in the greater City of Tehran and two-thirds of the people of Tehran province did not participate in the presidential election. These numbers suggest that the non-participation in Tehran province was 70% and about 80% in the City of Tehran.

According to ISNA (Iran’s official news), the total number of invalid and blank ballots in Tehran province was 70%! However, Iran’s official news outlets announced the presidential election as a victory for the Islamic Republic. One cannot deny that the level of people’s dissatisfaction and distrust of the government is high. A media outlet close to the regime says that the concentration of power in the hands of a few government institutions should not lead to the elimination of the vulnerable. The vulnerable of the society is once again showing off their power, and this time they may do so more tremendously than in the mid-November 2019 uprising.

An Unprecedented Number of Blank Votes in the City Council Elections

This year, city and village council elections were held at the same time as the presidential election. As a result, the number of those who voted this year was less than 75% compared to the last term. One of the rare events in the recent city and village council elections was more blank votes than those cast for candidates. In Karaj City Council, blank ballots ranked first. The number of blank ballots in the Karaj City Council elections was announced to be 38,888 votes, which is about 16,000 more than the first candidate elected.

It is unprecedented in the history of the elections of the Islamic Republic that in some metropolises such as Karaj, Arak, and Hamedan, the blank votes ranked first. In Tehran, the blank votes ranked second.

Suppose one opts to close eyes on the decline in popular participation in the regime’s elections. In that case, one should pay attention to the citizens’ participation rate, Tehran, which according to the regime’s statistics, has dropped to 26%. This situation is no longer a warning but an actual fire. The number of people voting in the farthest parts of the country will be similar to that of the people of Tehran because the other cities often follow the trends in the country’s capital.

Alternative Force, A Reality?

Azad Armaki, a sociologist and professor at the University of Tehran, says: “I have been talking about a third force for one or two years, whose candidates are neither reformist nor fundamentalist factions of the regime; it is another candidate. Those who cast blank votes have practically crossed the reformist-fundamentalist dichotomy. This phenomenon shows that a large part of society no longer acts in the previous framework and is choosing to travel in other directions.”

From the perspective of jurisprudence, we analyze participation in elections as a vote for the system. According to the regime itself, the non-participation of 62% of the people in the elections requires fundamental reforms in the country’s elections’ legal structure. The existing structure of the regime is the only cause of what is happening in Iran’s society. A genuine and fundamental change can only occur if the jurisprudent’s absolute authority or the absolute monarchy is demolished and removed. That means the end of the mullahs’ regime.

For years, the government has had two strategies. The first is to ignore the people’s voices and continue this course of oppression, awaiting the consequences of the people’s dissatisfaction, including turning their backs on the ballot box. The second is to change its behavior, take into account the people’s vote, and embrace democracy in the true sense of the word. Unfortunately, choosing the second strategy can be costly for the Islamic Republic.

Looking at this regime and its crackdown on people’s gatherings, demonstrations, strikes, and especially the brutal crackdown on the innocent protestors of the 2017 and 2019 uprisings, it is clear they are choosing the first strategy. But, more importantly, the appointment of a president who was involved in the 1988 massacre of political prisoners indicates the regime has decided to implement its suppressive apparatus on the people of Iran. Looking at history teaches us that no dictatorship has survived democracy.

Hamid Enayat
Hamid Enayat
Mr. Enayat (@h_enayat) is an expert on Iran and a writer based in Paris, where he has written frequently on Iranian and regional issues in the past thirty years.