A Foreigner’s Take: Elections in Iran Represent the True Spirit of Democracy

Humaira Ahad, Orinoco Tribune, June 28, 2024 — 

In the Iranian capital Tehran, campaign billboards have adorned every nook and cranny of the bustling city as people enthusiastically gear up for the June 28 snap presidential election.

Big posters of candidates running for Iran’s presidency have appeared on lampposts around the busiest corners of the capital city. There is a thrill and palpable excitement in the air.

The upcoming presidential election has taken center stage in the country’s political discourse, with people engaged in animated discussions in bazaars, state-of-the-art malls, traditional tea shops, modern cafes, and around the carts of vegetable vendors where women buy “sabzikhordan.”

As people discuss issues ranging from economic growth, relations with the West, the lifting of US sanctions, the crisis in West Asia, unemployment, etc., the presidential candidates have been busy campaigning to woo voters with blueprints of their policies if elected to office.

In normal circumstances, Iran would have gone to elections next year, but the unfortunate May 19 helicopter crash that led to the death of President Ebrahim Raeisi paved the way for a snap vote.

The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran mandates an election within 50 days after the death of a sitting president.

While presidential candidates have, over the past two weeks, been busy crisscrossing the length and breadth of the country to win voters’ favor, I have seen people being handed campaign leaflets outside metro stations, universities, bus stops, and around busy shopping centers.

Even messages (SMS) have been sent out by the presidential hopefuls to garner voters. The electioneering process seems ordinary to many, business as usual, but is it?

This presidential election in the Islamic Republic has provided me, as an outsider, with a chance to closely observe the democratic process in a foreign country.

As I witness the general election in Iran for the first time, my mind unwittingly wanders to the state of “democracy” in other West Asian countries, a region almost entirely ruled by monarchs.

With a population of more than three hundred million people, most of the residents of the region have never had an opportunity to elect their governments.

The older Arab generations never got a chance to select a representative, and the future generations may also never be fortunate enough to vote and elect their leaders of choice.


Iran, on the other side, is an oasis in the region, but still, the Western media has never missed an opportunity to portray the country and its democratic processes in a bad light.

The Western media has compulsively lied about the election processes in the Islamic Republic over the decades. We often come across headlines that promote crude lies such as elections are “not free and fair in Iran” or “Iranian democracy is a farce.”

But what I have seen and observed here in Iran is a completely different story.

During this election, the vibrant democratic scene has been on full display throughout the country. The way candidates have been discussing critical issues in presidential debates and the way they have been interacting with people to win their favor is the essence of real democracy.

Being used to individual monologues by politicians, I experienced a refreshing change in Iran with hopefuls engaging in lively debates broadcast live by the country’s television network.

Every issue is discussed, ranging from plans for Iran’s economic development, the JCPOA or the nuclear deal, healthcare, and education policy to topics such as Hijab and women’s freedom and even the perceived voter turnout in the upcoming election.

These debates that reflect the differences of opinion between various candidates on numerous issues offer Iranians an extensive view of their blueprints for the resolution of the country’s problems.

Apart from televised debates and other TV programs, the candidates in the race for Iran’s presidency have also been holding public rallies in different cities in the run-up to the June 28 vote.

These gatherings are not the usual assembly of people where a presidential candidate delivers a speech and people watch as mute spectators. Here in Iran, people often ask probing questions, and the candidates respond; the queries and comments are sometimes tough and inconvenient.

At one of the campaign events of a presidential candidate at the University of Tehran last week, a student referred to the “colorful deceptions (of politicians) every day.”

Surprisingly enough, the remark was met with a gentle response from the candidate.


The space to criticize and inquire without the fear of being grilled, judged, or prosecuted is a rarity even in countries that claim to be bastions of free speech and democracy.

Universities in Iran hold huge importance which was also observed at the time of the Islamic Revolution when Iranian students were at the forefront, representing the public sentiment against the West-backed Shah regime.

The same fervor is seen today in the election season, with students becoming the society’s voice through their gatherings and slogans to express agreements and disagreements on various issues.

Young voters, who are about 60 percent of the total population in the country, hold key importance for any government, and that is seen in the critical role played by universities.

Despite the ongoing exam season, the enthusiasm shown by students for the June 28 election is tremendous, with all presidential candidates making it a point to hold meetings with students.

Educational institutions hold paramount significance in the country where the literacy rate stands at 89 percent, higher than in many Western countries.

In a recent interview with Press TV, Indian career diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar made an interesting comment, describing Iran as a “civilization state” and not a usual nation-state.

Maybe education along with the country’s rich history is responsible for the courteous behavior of Iranians. But why am I mentioning this here? One of the reasons that has glued me to the Iranian election is the respectful conduct of candidates during their election campaign.

Vilification and insults that are central to election campaigns worldwide are not seen in Iran.

On the event of the Islamic holiday of Eid-e-Ghadeer, one of the presidential candidates was seen distributing Eidi (the Muslim tradition of distributing gifts by the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad) among other candidates and the network staff before the fifth and final debate.

The show of reverence and the courteous exchange of pleasantries by political opponents is unlike what is seen globally in the world. That’s what makes Iranian culture so beautiful.

Irrespective of who wins the election, Iran and Iranians have won by presenting to the world a model that doesn’t fuel hostility for one another, but rather is driven by respect and compassion.


Humaira Ahad is presently pursuing her PhD from a university in Tehran.

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