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Iran’s Reformists teetering on electoral boycott as polls approach

Faced with declining social capital, Iran’s Reformists are wary of electoral participation without requisite political authority.
A man holds a poster of Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi during a rally in support of Mousavi, after Friday prayers in Tehran May 29, 2009. Iranians vote on June 12 in an election that pits hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against two moderate challengers and one fellow conservative.    REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi (IRAN POLITICS ELECTIONS) - GM1E55T1JXM01

Iranian Reformists are getting serious about boycotting the upcoming 2020 parliamentary elections. In the disputed 2009 presidential vote, the camp rallied behind contenders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi as they faced incumbent hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The outcome was shocking for many, leading Reformist candidates to allege the ballot was rigged, with mass protests ensuing. The two Reformist candidates promised supporters they would stick to their commitment to “take back” their votes. This promise led Mousavi and Karroubi to be put under house arrest in 2011, but it also ultimately preserved and maintained the social capital of the Reformists.

Just over two years later in the 2013 presidential elections, Reformists — who had been marginalized owing to their unrelenting objections to the outcome of the 2009 vote — were persuaded to take part by former presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989-1997) and Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005). In the wake of moderate leader Rafsanjani and Reformist icon Khatami’s efforts to get out the vote, a great number of so-called grey voters — a term for mostly reform-minded individuals who usually don’t cast their ballots — led to long lines to vote for Hassan Rouhani, a moderate cleric who at the time was mostly unknown to ordinary Iranians. After Rouhani’s victory, a similar moderate-Reformist triumph was achieved in the 2016 parliamentary elections as the Reformists used all of their social capital.

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