Morning Brief

Low Turnout Could Help Hardliners in Iran’s Election

Recent crises and growing disillusionment could keep Iranians from turning up at the polls today, benefiting conservative candidates.

An Iranian woman walks past electoral posters and fliers during the last day of the parliamentary election campaign in Tehran on Feb. 19.
An Iranian woman walks past electoral posters and fliers during the last day of the parliamentary election campaign in Tehran on Feb. 19. ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Iran holds parliamentary elections, Irish lawmakers face crunch time to form a government, and fears of the coronavirus are rising in South Korea after a spike in cases.

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Khamenei Loyalists Likely to Win in Iran

Iran holds parliamentary elections today, but recent crises and a growing lack of confidence in the country’s leadership—and the limited list of candidates running, thanks to the government’s disqualification of many moderates and reformists—could keep many citizens from turning out to vote.

The disillusionment with what many see as a stacked election is particularly strong among women and voters under 30. Both groups tend to vote for social reform, but many have been disappointed in President Hassan Rouhani’s record and angry over the deaths of hundreds of anti-government protesters at the hands of security forces last November.

The elections are the first test of Iran’s leadership, and particularly the clerical establishment, since the unrest erupted. It’s also the first vote since the United States pulled out of the nuclear deal between Iran and other powers in 2018, reimposing sanctions that have triggered economic hardship and increased tensions between Iran and the United States. Those tensions brought the two countries to the brink of war last month after the U.S. assassination of Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani.

What to expect. Conservative hardliners already dominate the ballots, with thousands of moderate or reformist candidates—including 90 incumbents—barred from running by the Guardian Council, which is largely appointed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. That means the hardliners could win, particularly if the turnout is low. That would undermine the reformist Rouhani in his last year in office.

U.S. response. On Thursday, the United States imposed sanctions against five members of the Guardian Council, labeling the elections a “sham” because of the disqualified candidates. “It is not free or fair,” said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday during a visit to Saudi Arabia—a key U.S. partner as it seeks to balance against Iran in the Middle East.

What We’re Following Today

Irish lawmakers seek tough coalition. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar formally resigned on Thursday amid political deadlock as the new parliament—elected on Feb. 8—failed to choose a new leader, as expected. The parties haven’t had a breakthrough in talks since the vote, which disrupted the political status quo when the left-wing nationalist Sinn Fein party won a surge in support. Lawmakers have set three weeks to try to form a coalition government, reconvening on March 5. Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald says the party is still seeking a partner, though the two major parties are unwilling to join.

Virus fears rise in South Korea. The mayor of Daegu, South Korea’s fourth-largest city, asked residents to stay indoors on Thursday after dozens of people developed coronavirus symptoms after attending church with a woman who tested positive for the disease. Health officials called the incident a “super-spreading event.” South Korea has so far recorded 104 cases of the virus and confirmed its first death on Thursday. In China, officials still report that new cases are declining nationwide, though Wuhan—the virus epicenter—remains under quarantine.

G-20 financial leaders meet in Riyadh. The finance ministers of the world’s 20 largest economies meet in Saudi Arabia on Saturday and Sunday. The leaders are expected to announce a modest rise in global growth in 2020 and 2021, while highlighting the risk of the coronavirus, according to a draft statement seen by Reuters. (China is not sending officials to the meeting.) The draft also endorses global tax rules proposed by the OECD that would have consequences for technology companies such as Google and Facebook.

Keep an Eye On

Refugees in Rwanda. Hardening European Union border policies have forced refugees back to Libya, where they face imminent danger. In September, Rwanda announced that it would begin to take evacuees from Libya—with 1,500 expected to arrive by the end of the year. Many expected to be resettled elsewhere by the U.N. refugee agency, but in reality their future still remains uncertain, Sally Hayden reports for FP.

Buttigieg’s foreign-policy mentor. Pete Buttigieg once worked under foreign-policy veteran Doug Wilson on John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign. Now, Wilson is working on his campaign: He leads a team of experts trying to help Buttigieg stand out from the pack, FP’s Robbie Gramer reports as part of a series of profiles on the 2020 Democrats’ foreign-policy advisors.

Read our coverage of foreign policy in the 2020 election here.

Odds and Ends

The Vatican says there is already intense interest in the World War II-era Pope Pius XII’s archive, which is set to open on March 2. More than 150 researchers have signed up for access to the documents—spanning millions of pages—with many particularly interested in his record during the Holocaust. Some historians and Jewish groups have said that Pius remained silent on the Holocaust, while his defenders say he helped save lives.

That’s it for today. 

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Photo: Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images

Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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