Local politics and unequal vote weight in Iran’s legislative electoral system 

By Kourosh Rahimkhani
Submitted to Session P5285 (Parties, National Dialogues and Elections In Contemporary Middle East Politics, 2018 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
While in the last 40 years, Iran has witnessed rapid urbanization, the country’s legislative electoral system has not undergone corresponding changes. Iran’s large cities have faced electoral malapportionment, or a discrepancy between the share of legislative seats assigned to a geographical area and the area’s share of the population. This unequal voting weight has had political ramifications for local politics in rural and urban areas. In 1977 more than 52% of Iran’s population was living in rural areas, whereas the 2016 census showed that 74% of Iran’s population was residing in urban areas. Although there has been a long-standing bias in the design of Iran’s legislative electoral system, postrevolutionary adjustments have done little to adjust the geography of representation in accordance with the rapid population growth in many urban centers. 
According to the 2016 census, about half of Iran’s urban population lives in the country’s top 20 largest cities. However, these urban centers have not gained an equal vote weight in the legislative electoral system. The malapportionment in Iran’s legislative electoral system has also resulted in the underrepresentation of certain ethnoreligious groups, such as Sunnis in Sistan va Baluchistan. This study attempts to shed light on the consequence of malapportionment at the national and local levels. At the national level the important question is, Why has the Iranian government been unwilling to reform the legislative electoral system and favor an electoral bias that dilutes the electoral weight of the urban centers, which are the locus of stronger opposition? At the local level this study investigates how malapportionment has changed the nature of local competitions and voter turnout.