Home News Iranians say elections bring little change, so why vote?

Iranians say elections bring little change, so why vote?

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Aside from tattered posters of Iranian presidential candidates on highway overpasses, there were few signs this weekend that the country’s presidential election, which took place on Friday, was heading to a runoff.

There were few rallies held to praise the two top-vote candidates, who come from two very different political camps and between whom the Iranian people will choose on July 5.

Even from the government’s official data, it was clear that the real winners of Friday’s election were Iran’s silent majority, who either cast blank ballots or did not vote at all. About 60% of eligible voters did not vote or chose to cast a blank ballot.

That’s because voting is meaningless, said Bita Irani, a 40-year-old housewife in Tehran, Iran’s capital. “We can only choose between bad and worse,” she said. “There is no difference between one candidate and another.”

She said many Iranians now see no reason to get involved. “We are spectators, not participants,” she said. “We watch the elections, and if there are riots, we watch, but we don’t vote.”

I heard her assessment again and again as I spoke to people of all backgrounds in Tehran — even from some who had already voted but seemed ready to be disappointed.

Many are bitter about past electoral experiences and frustrated with their leaders’ inability to address Iran’s most pressing problems, particularly its weak economy.

Despite Iran’s limited tolerance for dissent, people are still able to speak freely, offering a glimpse into the capital’s skeptical mood.

Iran’s reform movement, which has sought to loosen up the Islamic Republic’s domestic and foreign policies, from easing social freedoms to improving relations with the West, has a notable history of setbacks. Several prominent Iranians, including two presidents, have embraced the reformist platform, but their efforts have been thwarted by the country’s religious leaders, leading to waves of protests that ended in repression and violence.

The most recent effort Forms of a national uprising In 2022, a protest led by women began. It began as a protest against Iran’s mandatory headscarf law but soon grew into a call for an end to clerical rule. By the time the demonstrations were suppressed, more than 500 deaths According to the UN Fact-Checking Mission, more than 22,000 people have been detained.

The recent defeat has even caused those who voted for the only reformist candidate in this election to lower their expectations.

Farzad Jafari, 36, who runs an agricultural product export company, said he barely bothered to vote as he sat with four friends at a neighborhood cafe in a leafy square in an upscale northern Tehran neighborhood on Saturday, a day after voting closed.

He said most people he knew did not run in this presidential election, and that of the four people he had coffee with, only Jaafari and a friend voted.

“I don’t want to vote at all because they exclude those who should be running,” Jafari said, referring to Iran’s constitutional Guardian Council system of Muslim clerics that vets potential candidates.

He said he realized it was unlikely that any one person could bring about change because ultimately all decisions are made by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

After the first round of voting, the race was left with only two candidates: reformist candidate Masoud Pezeshkian, whom Jaafari voted for, and ultra-conservative former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili.

Mr. Jaafari and another person present seemed heartened by the reformist candidate’s advance to the runoff, and they quickly began discussing their next steps, discussing which candidate would capture the votes of those who would no longer run and how many Iranians who boycotted the first round might vote in the second.

The key question, however, is whether a potential runoff between hard-line conservatives and reformists will spur reformist voters (including those who boycotted the first round) to vote on July 5. If so, this could be seen as a victory for the government, which considers electoral participation a measure of regime legitimacy.

When the topic turned to Friday’s runoff, I asked those who had not voted in the first round whether they would vote in the second round, and three of them shook their heads. Mr. Jaafari looked regretful.

“People don’t have hope,” he said, but then added, “But the truth is, the only thing we can do is hope.”

A similar sentiment was shared by four women in the square, who had gathered to go shopping at the crowded Tajrish Bazaar, which sells saffron and cardamom, curtain fabrics, fine cotton scarves and knockoff designer bags, as well as cooking pots and vats of homemade yogurt.

The two women’s politics, dress and tone were starkly different. Fatima, a 40-year-old mother of three, wore a black burqa. Sherwin, a 52-year-old civil engineer, wore a stylishly cut mustard top and rust-colored pants. Her headscarf barely covered her head. The third woman wore stylish, loose-fitting linen pants and a thin white headscarf draped over her shoulders.

Of the four women, two voted and two did not. All four asked to be identified only by their first names because they fear retaliation at work or with their families.

Even Fatima, who voted for the most conservative candidate and seemed the most enthusiastic about the election, didn’t sound really enthusiastic. For her, voting was a religious obligation.

But she added that if a reformist candidate wins, “I will support him.”

All candidates were approved by Iran’s religious leaders, which gave Fatima a sense of reassurance and stability, while many Iranians saw the elimination as an effort to thwart efforts to change Iran’s clergy-dominated system.

In contrast, Sherwin said she has lost faith in the government and, like many educated, skilled Iranians, is considering leaving Iran. She is considering going to Canada, but the timing is not right yet — her son is in his last year of high school. Her daughter and several of her siblings are already in Toronto.

“Unfortunately, we don’t trust anyone the government allows to run,” she said. “Everything is deteriorating. Five or 10 years ago it was OK, but now we have less money and less freedom. The economy and freedom are the key.”

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