The outcome of the parliamentary election in Iran, fractured as it is between the conservatives and the moderates, was a fairly settled fact even before the first vote was cast last Friday. Reports till Monday afternoon suggest that the hardliners in a profoundly theocratic nation have swept the polls by winning all 30 seats in Tehran.

Inasmuch as it is a setback for the moderate President, Hassan Rouhani ~ presidential elections are scheduled next year ~ the resounding victory of the radical fringe is a critical shot in the arm for the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Speculation over the extent of the victory will be cause for alarm for sometime yet not the least because the Guardian Council had disqualified around half of the thousands of candidates for the 290-seat body, including 90 serving members.

This itself is testament to the almost relentless domestic turmoil, now exacerbated over the issue of nuclear proliferation and Donald Trump’s sanctions. The result sets the course for conservative control of every branch of government, as witnessed during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s tenure. However limited the authority of the Iranian parliament, it does have the power to shape the political narrative. Yet the outcome can scarcely be considered as a ringing endorsement of a theocratic state.

Despite the supreme leader’s exhortations to vote, the extension of polling hours and the anger engendered by the US assassination of Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Quds force, a usually active electorate stayed away from the polling booths. The overwhelming uncertainty has underwhelmed Iran’s tryst with democracy. Ayatollah Khamenei’s claim that Iran’s enemies have been exaggerating the threat of coronavirus holds no water. The nub of the matter must be that many voters saw little point in participating.

Not only were their candidates declared ineligible for this election; they have little to show for supporting them in the past. In 2013, Hassan Rouhani had won the presidency by pledging to end Iran’s isolation and revive its economy. The nuclear deal, signed by the Western powers and known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), ensured a landslide victory when he contested again in 2017.

Yet the internal opposition he has faced, the shortcomings of the moderates and, above all, the Trump administration’s hostility have left the country in desperate straits. The unilateral US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement and its reimposition of sanctions have ruined the country’s economy. Going by World Bank projections, the economy shrank by nearly 9 per cent last year.

To that can be added the ballooning inflation and burgeoning unemployment. Domestic misgovernance and corruption have contributed to the hopelessness that so many Iranians feel today. More accurately, Trump’s policies towards Iran have tightened the grip of hardliners.