Iran's ruling regime is facing a credibility crisis in the wake of this week's parliamentary election results, as the vast majority of Iranians demonstrated their contempt for the way their country is being run through the simple expedient of refusing to vote. Pictured: An Iranian man casts his ballot at a polling station in Tehran on February 21, 2020. (Photo by Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images)
Iran's ruling regime is facing a credibility crisis in the wake of this week's parliamentary election results, as the vast majority of Iranians demonstrated their contempt for the way their country is being run through the simple expedient of refusing to vote.
Prior to the vote, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country's Supreme Leader, made an impassioned plea to voters to demonstrate their support for the regime by casting their vote for the regime's designated candidates, warning that boycotting the election would provide US President Donald Trump with a propaganda victory.
"Anyone who cares about Iran's national interests should participate," he declared, adding that Iran's "enemies want to see what the results of the US maximum pressure are" -- a reference to the punitive sanctions regime that has been imposed on Tehran by the Trump administration.
To judge by the eventual outcome, though, the Iranian public had other ideas and, instead of responding to Mr Khamenei's rallying cry, chose to vent their deepening anger at the hardliners' responsible for running the country by opting not to vote.
While the hardliners tried to put a brave face on Sunday's result by claiming that the conservatives, who already run the legislature, had achieved an overwhelming victory, a closer inspection of the vote told a very different story, revealing that the country had experienced its lowest turn-out in an election since the 1979 Islamic revolution, with just 42 percent of the voters bothering to participate.
The result indicated that turnout had dropped by a third since the last parliamentary elections in 2016, which saw the victory of supposedly moderate politicians.
Perhaps the biggest embarrassment for the ayatollahs came in Tehran where, while the hardliners were able to claim victory by winning all 30 of the city's seats, they were able to achieve this feat because 75 percent of the city's registered voters decided not to cast their ballot.
Thus, far from securing the unequivocal declaration of support the ayatollahs had been seeking, Mr Khamenei and his acolytes have been left with a large amount of egg on their faces, as the decision by the overwhelming majority of voters not even to participate in the vote now raises serious questions about the entire credibility of the country's present ruling class.
In many respects the ayatollahs only have themselves to blame for this dire outcome. Prior to the poll they attempted to fix the election in their favour by refusing to allow large numbers of potential candidates, many of whom were highly critical of how the country is being run, even to contest the election.
This maneuver meant that around half of all candidates, including 90 serving members of the outgoing parliament, were disqualified prior to the election, prompting a nationwide boycott over what many Iranians regarded as a sham election.
The other factor that has played a significant role in the development of the increasingly hostile attitude that many Iranians apparently have towards their rulers is the regime's woeful record on a number of key issues, from its disastrous handling of the economy to, more recently, its hapless response to the assassination by a US drone strike of the country's notorious terrorist mastermind, Qassem Soleimani.
Having vowed to avenge the terrorist's demise, the regime then managed further to increase its international ostracism by accidentally shooting down a Ukrainian civilian aircraft, with the loss of all 176 passengers and crew on board.
The result is, as the outcome from the parliamentary elections has graphically illustrated, that growing numbers of ordinary Iranians are now desperate to see fundamental changes in the way their country is run, changes that can only take place when the ayatollahs finally admit that they can no longer have the support they need to keep their repressive regime in power.
Con Coughlin is the Telegraph's Defence and Foreign Affairs Editor and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.