On February 16, 2016, the Iranian people go to the polls for the first time to elect members to two important bodies at once; Iran's 10th Parliament and 5th Assembly of Experts.
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Narration: Tehran, February 16, 2016. Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, the leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, casts his ballot paper in the early moments of elections.
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Seyyed Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran: “Anybody who loves Iran, anybody who loves the Islamic Republic and national dignity, grandeur and glory is advised to participate in the elections, which is both duty and right of the people.”
Narration: The hectic campaign days are gone; now across the country, millions of Iranians have been lining up at polling stations. This is for the first time they go to the polls to elect members to two important bodies at once; Iran's 10th Parliament and 5th Assembly of Experts. Both elections are equally important; the Parliament passes laws and approves the national budget. It holds the purse strings of the country and the government. The Assembly of Experts, on the other hand, monitors the leader’s conduct, with a power to dismiss him if necessary. It also chooses the new leader.
Polling starts at 8 am local time in over 53,000 stations nationwide; the massive turnout makes authorities extend the closing time for several times so as to give everyone a chance to vote. About 55 million people are eligible to take part in this round; on the sideline, hundreds of foreign reporters to cover this political event, unrivalled in the region. A total of 4,844 hopefuls, including about 500 women stand for the 290-seat Parliament; and a total of 159 candidates run for the 88-member Assembly of Experts.
This is Friday, February 16, 2016...A few days before, President Rouhani calls on people to take part in the elections.
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Hassan Rouhani, Iranian President: “The higher election turnout, the more ballot papers, the more serious role people will have in their own fate. Under the current circumstances, no one should refrain from going to the, even though they think the conditions are not favorable.”
SOUNDBITE [English] Masoumeh Ebtekar, Iran’s Vice President: “This is a clear indication that the people are present in the scene, in the political scene in Iran, that they believe in the democratic processes in the country, taking part in the elections to influence these policies, according to the direction they believe in. This will strengthen the government of the President Rouhani in terms of both economic relations in continuing the post- sanction policies that the government has had.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] A woman, Resident: “We've been here for an hour and we will be if necessary. As for our motivation, our leader invited us and we've come to the polls. It's our religious duty.”
Narration:Election in Iran is not just a political event. It is also a symbol of political independence and national sovereignty. A high turnout in elections validates the legitimacy of the ruling system.
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Seyyed Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran: “People are advised to take part in this big event with good intentions, for the sake of God, and for the country to enjoy a growing credibility and sovereignty. Definitely, these are the results. They are advised to answer to the national grace and sovereignty. This is an answer to this big need.”
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SOUNDBITE [Persian] A woman, Resident: “For me personally, what matters is peace and security which depend on the ballot paper I cast so as to tell the enemies that there is no way for them to this country.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] Young girl, Resident: “Definitely it is important for me because it is supposed to build the future of my country for the next four years.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] A man, Resident: “Surely, the results would affect the fate of the people. They are important for the future of the country.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian] A woman, Resident: “No doubt that it's important for every Iranian to know what is going on in the country. As is it important for me as a woman.”
Narration: According to the Ministry of Interior, over 35,000,000 eligible voters took part in the twin elections; over 60% of the electorate. Given the fact that Iran is located in the Middle East, a region often synonymous with political instability and autocracy, such a high turnout can be a source of national pride for the Iranians.
SOUNDBITE [English] Marzieh Hashemi, Press TV anchor:“Well, I’m happy to welcome to our first guest today which is going to be a very very busy day with a lot of experts happy to Dr. Kazem Sajjadpour, professor from the school of International Relations. Thank you so much for being with us”
SOUNDBITE [English] Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour, Political Expert: “You’re welcome.”
SOUNDBITE [English] Marzieh Hashemi, Press TV anchor: “Let’s start off, significance of this election?”
SOUNDBITE [English] Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour, Political Expert: “Significance is both of domestic and international aspects; domestically, it suggests the stability of the political system, the dynamism of the political system and the connectivity between the people and the system. And externally, look at what’s happening in the region. You see the region in a state of turmoil, instability all over the countries in the region and I think this is suggestive of a stable Iran.”
Narration: Since the victory of the Islamic Revolution of Iran in 1979 under the leadership of Imam Khomeini, Iran has always been at the forefront of democracy. The country has created a home-made political system with elections at its heart, and yet different from the Western version of democracy. To some experts, the current political system in Iran is more democratic in nature and structure.
As the results began to trickle in from the elections, it became clear that the allies of President Rouhani had made strong gains, controlling the entire 30-seat delegation representing the capital city of Tehran; a big nod of approval to the President who would enjoy the support of a coalition of reformists, centrists or pragmatic conservatives. Reformists also won 15 out of 16 seats allocated for Tehran in the Assembly of Experts. However, according to a tally by the Reuters news agency, conservatives won about 112 seats in the 290-seat parliament, reformists and centrists 90, and independents and religious minorities 29. And still, dozens of parliament seats remain to be decided in a runoff. By and large, the exact voting blocs in the new Parliament won’t be clear until at least May, when new members, including a large number of self-declared independents, convene and attempt to form a working majority. What is clear at the moment is that this time there will be a more diverse range of voices in Parliament and the Assembly of Experts to reflect the will of people even better than before.
Regardless of the results, the 2016 election is a great victory for a nation that has the built a democratic society on civil liberty and Islamic rationality.