Voting in Iran

August 7th, 2013 by CIVIX

Hassan Rouhani was elected as President of Iran on June 14, 2013, receiving 18.6 million votes and 50.7 per cent of popular vote. Rouhani was inaugurated on August 3, replacing Mahmooud Ahmadinejad as Iran’s political leader, subordinate only to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

The 2013 election was the 11th presidential election since the 1979 Islamic revolution, where Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew a Western-backed monarchy and introduced some democratic reforms.

With the adoption of democratic ideals comes a learning curve for both politicians and citizens, and, in 1979, citizens grappled with the concept as they began to interpret its viability to greater Iranian society. However, as opposing factions within Iran debated the institutions and values that would govern future leaders, external forces would impede any meaningful progress in this realm.

Iran’s first president was impeached in the summer of 1981, and his replacement assassinated only six weeks later. Not until autumn of 1981, nearly three years after the Shah fled the country, was a stable office of the presidency established with the electoral victory of Ali Khamenei, who served as president until 1989.

Since the end of the Iraq War, elections in Iran attracted much fanfare and were seen as a viable instrument for change. Between 1989 and 2005, Iranians voters elected four successive moderate governments led by Presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami.


Iranian elections continue to garner some of the highest voter turnouts in the Middle East, proof that democracy in Iran is active and generally participatory. Even in 2009, when post-election unrest led to some political disorder, the value of elections to the Iranian people was evident. The latest presidential election drew 72 per cent voter turnout, compared to 85 per cent in 2009, 59 per cent in 2005, and 68 per cent in 2001.

Comparatively, similar sized countries with a developed sense of democracy do not seem as successful at drawing voters to participate in elections. Voter turnout for parliamentary elections in the United Kingdom and Germany has hovered around 60 per cent since the turn of the century, and only Turkey, with laws that punish those who do not vote, boasts higher voter turnout rates than Iran. Comparatively, Canadian federal elections have drawn an average of 61 per cent turnout since 2000.

Since its infancy, the subject of democracy in Iran has been sensitive, partly because it was taken away in 1953. When recaptured in 1979 after nearly thirty more years of autocratic rule, democracy presented something different. For decades, decisions for the Iranian people were made in foreign capitals, whether it be Moscow, London, or Washington. In 1979, democracy offered the prospect of local government operated by Iranian political thought, and three decades later, this process continues to unfold.


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