In act 3 scene 1 of William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, Hamlet delivers his infamous existential monologue by beginning with a fundamental question, “to be or not to be?” Like Hamlet, Iranians have their own motives, their own cues for passion, and have begun wrestling with their own fundamental question, to vote or not to vote?
Despite the growing media awareness of the political quagmire in Iran, the looming elections in Iran have become a moot point for many Iranians. In the face of the vast voter turn out of 1997 (seventy percent of eligible voters participated), which saw the popular rise of Mohammad Khatami, Iranians have steadily become disillusioned with the non-agenda of the so-called “reformist” camp. In March of 2003, municipal elections in Iran drew less than twelve percent of eligible voters and February 2004 is shaping up to be no different.
The Council of Guardians has recently barred thousands of potential candidates, including more than eighty sitting members of the Majlis from participating in upcoming parliamentary elections on February 20th. The council is the most influential body in Iran and is currently controlled by conservatives. It consists of six theologians appointed by the Supreme Leader and six jurists nominated by the judiciary and approved by parliament. Members are elected for six years on a phased basis, so that half the membership changes every three years.
The council has to approve all bills passed by parliament and make sure they conform to the constitution and Islamic law. In effect, the council also has the power to vet all candidates in elections to parliament and the presidency. If we choose to acknowledge these facts, in reality, the Council of Guardians are acting well within their prescribed roles and are not compromising any aspects of the Iranian peoples constitutional rights. The council is constitutionally enshrined and is empowered to ensure parliament's actions comply with so-called Islamic principles.
The 290-member Majlis are elected by popular vote every four years. As the country's parliament, the Majlis has the power to introduce and pass laws, as well as to summon and impeach ministers or the president. However, the Council of Guardians must approve all parliamentary bills. Ultimately, these are the hallmarks of a deficient ruling clerical class and an impotent parliament that refuses to acknowledge the role it plays in legitimizing the theocratic system in Iran.
Iran's so-called “reformist” camp has failed in anyway to question the status quo in Iran. Meaning, it has failed in recognizing what so many Iranians already know: that the arranged marriage of religion and government cannot become the basis for a democratic society. In fact, the ire of the so-called reformists is not even directed at whether there should even be a twelve member religious body that decides who can and cannot run for parliament. Their indignation lies with the fact that it is they who are being banned from participating. The electoral system or governmental structure of the Islamic Republic itself never becomes a point of contention.
Sometimes when we choose to change the system from within, all the while remaining loyal to it, it is inevitably the system that changes us. Until the so-called reformist movement concedes to its inefficiency and accepts that the problem of the Islamic Republic is systematic, it will never have the support of the people. After a quarter century of living in a tyrannical theocracy, Iranians have begun to realize that it is not always nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. It is the citizens of Iran right now who are asking the difficult questions, not their law makers or rulers, and it is the citizens whom we should be looking to for answers.
I invite all the members of the Majlis, and all Iranians in and outside of the country, to take another look at the constitution of the Islamic Republic and ask themselves one more question: how much longer are we willing to implement or uphold a document that is not representative of its people and is riddled with prejudicial laws?
By choosing to not vote in the upcoming elections in Iran, Iranians will show that they are no longer willing to partake in the farce that is the Islamic Republic.
Samira Mohyeddin has a degree in Religion and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Toronto and is also a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City.