When one week ago, despite Interior Minister's statistics of having 46 million eligible voters in Iran, Constitutional Guardian Council (CGC) claimed there are about 43 million eligible voters, most of political observers simply consider it just as another attempt by CGC to overestimate participation rate, which was considered to be lower than previous election by all activists. What was not so apparent by that time, was how crucial is this threshold.
After only few hours since the polls closed, though there is no official estimation, unofficial estimates show around 21 to 22 million votes have been cast. So now the question is (that) whether Islamic Republic is a legitimate Theocracy-Democracy with approval of 51% of Iranians, or it is illegitimate due to having less than 50% support by people, in contrast with the previous elections when usually 70% voted for parliamentary elections. The question will become more serious if one realizes that in all of the top 5 cities, including Tehran, participation rate is below or about 30%.
It is not very hard to imagine how from tomorrow, hard-core reformists, including Participation Front of Iran (PFI) who has the majority in the current parliament and most of its members were banned from election, will interpret the result of election as people's answer to their boycott, and conservative, who are going to gain majority in the next course of Parliament starting from next July, will consider the election legitimate and as a great victory for the regime, or as they call it: A Punch in the Enemy's Face!
And finally, centrist reformist, including reformist clergies like president Khatami and House speaker Karrobi, who were allowed to participated in election and despite their opposition to CGC asked people to vote, will interpret peopleís low participation as a result of CGC exclusive policies; however, in contrast with hard-core reformists, they will consider the regime legitimate, since it has at least 50% approval, even on its worst days!
In the meantime, most of intellectuals, both religious and secular ones, who one way or another asked people to do not participate in election to avoid legitimacy of the regime, will have hard time digesting why their boycott did not work as they expected; that is why instead of, letís say 30%, about 50% voted. Some may stick to conspiracy theories, accusing semi-mandatory votes by those lay people who thought not voting may cause civil consequences for them; and some may ask deeper questions like: why they cannot convey their message, illegitimacy of the regime, to the ordinary people?
But I still cannot see the connection between voting and legitimacy of the regime! I believe people should, and most of them do, vote whenever they have choices and their votes make a difference, regardless of whether the regime is acceptable and legitimate or not.
I think the question of legitimacy of a regime cannot, and should not, be answered unless the alternative system is defined and understood well. Therefore, though some speculations from this election can be made, no clear conclusions about the legitimacy of Iran's current regime can be drawn based on participation rate in the election.
What is clear, however, is: at least half of Iranians could not find any choice among candidates that makes any difference, that is to say, half of Iranians think no change could be done for Iran's next four years, a very sad news for Iranians' future.