Monday, July 22, 2024

Iran holds a vote to choose a president


As voting in Iran’s presidential election continued on Friday, initial estimates from campaign officials showed that only about 40% of eligible voters had cast ballots. The low turnout was a potential blow to the ruling clerics, who had made voter turnout an indicator of their legitimacy and had hoped for a 50% turnout, compared to about 70% in previous presidential elections.

Hafez Hakmi, campaign manager for the only reformist candidate, Dr. Masoud Pezeshkianz, confirmed in a phone call after the polls closed that the turnout rate was lower than expectations.

“We were expecting a turnout of over 50 percent, but unfortunately the social mood for voting was still heavy, and we could not convince people to come to the polls,” he said.

Having endured years of economic struggle and severe restrictions on personal and social freedoms, many Iranians say they are tired of empty promises made by politicians unwilling or unable to deliver. For some voters, refusing to cast a ballot was the only way to reject the government.

“The rift between the government and its people is dangerous,” said Omid Memarian, a human rights activist and senior analyst at the Washington-based think tank DAWN. “From university students to women to political prisoners to those who lost loved ones during the nationwide protests of 2022, there was a consensus that Iran needs far greater changes than the regime is proposing.

“People are tired of having to choose between bad, worse and worse,” he added.

In the capital, Tehran, reports emerged of some polling stations being evacuated. Mahdia (41 years old), who gave only her first name for fear of the authorities, said: “The polling station where I cast my vote today was empty.” “I voted without the hijab,” she added, referring to the rules requiring women to wear a head covering in Iran.

But in the central and southern parts of the capital, where the government has more voters, voters stood in lines as voting hours were extended until midnight.

Milad (22 years old) from the city of Karaj, located on the outskirts of the capital, said that he changed his mind about not voting and that he plans to vote for Dr. Masoud.

“Most Iranians are against extremism and extremism,” he said. “Now that we have a candidate who represents a different path, I want to give him a chance.”

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The vote to choose a successor to President Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash in May, comes at a perilous time for the country. The next president will face a series of challenges, including discontent and divisions at home, a struggling economy and a volatile region that has brought Iran to the brink of war twice this year.

The final result may not be known until tomorrow, but analysts expect that it will not be decisive, as none of the three main candidates will obtain the 50% necessary to avoid a runoff.

Opinion polls conducted by Iranian state television before the election showed that the vote was evenly split between conservative candidates Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf and Saeed Jalili, with each receiving about 16%. The reformist candidate, Dr. Pezeshkian, received about 23%. Analysts say that if this situation continues, a runoff will be held on July 5 between the reformist and the prominent conservative.

This outcome could have been avoided if a Conservative had withdrawn. But in the midst of a bitter public conflict, neither Mr. Ghalibaf, a former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps who is now speaker of parliament, nor Mr. Jalili, a hardliner on domestic and foreign policy, has budged. Of the two, Mr. Ghalibaf is seen as the more pragmatic.

In the latest polls, Mr. Pezeshkian has the most support of any candidate, but he is still far short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff. Speaking to reporters after casting his ballot in Rey, just southeast of Tehran, Dr. Pezeshkian said: “I have come for Iran. I have come to address the deprived areas and listen to the voices of those who have not received their rights,” according to the state-run IRNA news agency.

Mostafa Pourmohammadi, a cleric who previously held senior intelligence posts, is also running, but his candidacy has not resonated with public opinion and polls suggest he is likely to get less than 1 percent of the vote. Pourmohammadi has warned throughout his campaign that the Islamic Republic has lost the people and that turnout will be a major challenge.

Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. local time on Friday and are expected to remain open late into the night to encourage more participation.

Casting his vote as polls opened on Friday morning, Khamenei urged Iranians to vote for the country, regardless of who they support, portraying it as a matter of civic duty that would bring the country “dignity and credit” in the election. Eyes of the world.

“This is a big political test for the nation, and I know that some people have doubts and have not yet decided what to do,” he said. “But I can tell them it’s important, it has many benefits, so why not?”

But his pleas appear to have fallen on deaf ears. Iranian elections are tightly controlled, with a committee of appointed clerics and jurists vetting all candidates, and the government goes to great lengths to intimidate dissident voices in the media. Almost all major state decisions in Iran are made by Mr. Khamenei, especially on foreign and nuclear policy.

As a result, many Iranians appear to have continued the boycott that began with the last major election, either in protest or because they do not believe real change can come through the ballot box.

Four young women studying psychology at Tehran University, who were shopping for cosmetics in the Tajrish Bazaar in northern Iran on Wednesday, were a sign of that discontent. Although they described themselves as upset about conditions in Iran, they said they did not plan to vote.

We cannot do anything about this situation; “We have no hope except in ourselves,” said Sohgand, 19, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of the authorities. “But we want to stay in Iran to make it better for our children.”

She was wearing black pants and a tight jacket, leaving her brown hair exposed. But she also had a scarf wrapped around her shoulders in case an official asked her to wear one. As for the rules requiring women to wear the hijab, she simply added: “We hate it.”

On Friday, the mosaic-covered Hosseiniyeh Ershad Seminary, a religious seminary in Tehran, was packed at midday as people lined up to cast their votes.

Among them is Nima Saberi, 30, who said she supports the reformist. “We believe that Mr. Pezeshkian will unite everyone,” she said. “He is a reasonable person, not an extremist, and respects people from all walks of life.”

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Mr. Saberi, along with others at the institute, stressed that they appreciated Mr. Pezeshkian’s commitment to rooting out corruption and establishing “better relations with the world,” a euphemism often used to ease tensions with the West in order to solve the problem. Get the sanctions lifted.

The televised debates, in which the candidates were surprisingly vocal in criticizing the status quo, showed that the economy, which is suffering from US sanctions as well as corruption and mismanagement, was the top priority for voters and candidates, according to analysts.

Analysts say the economy cannot be fixed without addressing foreign policy, including the standoff with the United States over Iran’s nuclear program and concerns about Iranian military interference in the region through its network of proxy armed groups.

“Instead of radical change, elections may produce smaller, if significant, shifts,” says Vali Nasr, professor of international affairs and Middle East studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. “Voices that take the lead and want a different direction may push the Islamic Republic to backtrack on some of its positions.”

Although apathy remains high in most urban areas, voters in provinces with large Azerbaijani Turks and Kurds were expected to turn out in larger numbers to vote for Dr. Pezeshkian. He himself is an Azerbaijani Turk and served as a member of parliament for the city of Tabriz, a major economic center in the East Azerbaijan province located in the northwest of the country. Dr. Pezishkian has delivered campaign speeches in his native Turkish and Kurdish languages.

At a rally in Tabriz on Wednesday, the doctor received a folk hero’s welcome, as fans filled the stadium and sang a Turkish nationalist song, according to videos and news reports. Azerbaijani activists say ethnic and religious minorities are rarely represented in senior positions in Iran, so the nomination of one of them for the presidency has generated interest and enthusiasm at the regional level.

Lily Niconazar He contributed to this report from Tehran.