Iran’s Legislative Elections through the Eyes of a Former Political Prisoner
(February 8, 2016) – On February 26, 2016, the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) will stage elections for the tenth term of its parliament, the Islamic Consultative Assembly, since the Revolution of 1979. Elections to the Assembly of Experts, a body officially tasked with supervising, removing, and electing the Supreme Leader of the IRI in the case of a vacancy will be held simultaneously. But long before the vote has been held, activists throughout the country highlight that the IRI has taken actions to ensure that--once again--the elections will be neither free nor fair. 
Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, a pro-democracy political activist, former political prisoner, and the spokesperson of the group Solidarity for Democracy and Human Rights in Iran, recently discussed his views regarding the upcoming elections for the Iranian parliament and the Assembly of Experts:
“The elections are being held under circumstances that could are not democratic, fair or free in the least. This is because the government controls all stages of the elections. It selects the candidates, and it disqualifies anyone who is opposed to or critical of the government’s structure, its policies and programs, or even the records of government officials, including the Supreme Leader, the Guardian Council, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the judiciary, or the clerical establishment. In addition, individuals who are approved by the Guardian Council to run must be careful not to voice dissent, otherwise they can be disqualified as well.
“[Then,] no independent organization observes the ballot boxes; therefore, it is not clear what happens there. In the campaign phase, individuals who are close to the IRGC have access to all kinds of resources, but the rest do not have any.
“A number of my friends and I, the [group] Solidarity for Democracy and Human Rights in Iran, announced that we would be candidates [in advance of the elections]. We registered at the Tehran Provincial Government building. Each of us succeeded in obtaining petitions of 500 eligible voters in Tehran who supported our candidacies. But [election officials] did not even enter our names among the list of registered candidates, and they eliminated them.
“We have been forced to announce that we plan to set up a parallel ballot box. Now, we want to ask the government not to hinder our campaigns. Representatives of independent parties such as Solidarity should observe the ballot boxes. The government should count our votes, and it does not have the right to declare them as invalid, because we know that millions of Tehran residents want to vote for candidates opposed to the government.”
 Article 111 of the Iranian Constitution declares, “Whenever the Leader becomes incapable of fulfilling his constitutional duties, or loses one of the qualifications mentioned in Articles 5 and 109, or it becomes known that he did not possess some of the qualifications initially, he will be dismissed.” In reality, however, the Assembly of Experts has never undertaken the task of evaluating the performance of the Supreme Leader. Instead it has always supported the Supreme Leader unequivocally, although individual members such as Ayatollah Ali Mohammad Dastgheib have publicly, if indirectly, criticized the Supreme Leader for the handling of the 2009 presidential election and the house arrest of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. Ayatollah Dastgheib has been disqualified as a candidate for the upcoming Assembly of Experts elections. In addition, while Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former chair of the Assembly of Experts, has been allowed to run in the upcoming elections, he was challenged by hardliners and forced to step down as chair in 2011. In December 2015, Sadegh Larijani, the head f the Iranian judiciary and a member of the Assembly of Experts, referred to the idea of overseeing the Supreme Leader as a “delusion.”