Saturday, November 27, 2021

In a pessimistic vote, Iranians vote for new president

TEHRAN – The line outside the polling station in Tehran was short and calm on Friday morning, nothing like the powerful crowds that usually run for presidential elections in Iran.

But when Abdolnaser Hemmati, the moderate in the race, showed up to vote, the sidewalk outside the polling station, which was erected at the Hosseinieh religious institute, suddenly cracked.

“Your view is useless to this country,” one heckler shouted at Mr. Hemmati, the former governor of the Iranian central bank, while holding up his phone to immortalize the moment.

“You are the hope of our country,” a woman shouted at the candidate, trying to drown the helicopter.

Iran’s presidential race, more than anything else, was marked by a lack of interest: many voters said they would not bother to vote in an election they said was manipulated in favor of the hard-line Conservative candidate, Ebrahim. Raisi, Iran’s judicial chief, who is close to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Many Tehran residents said even if they had had more choice, the previous election ended in the same way, regardless of the winner, with prices and rents rising, employment declining and pessimism taking hold.

The number of voters on Friday at various polling stations in the capital was much shorter than in previous presidential election years, although the ongoing coronavirus pandemic probably also affected the turnout. The Iranian news media reported that voter turnout was at 23 percent from 5 p.m. Results are expected on Saturday.

Beneath that listless surface, however, is a land of rage and hope, bitterness and faith.

Some of those who leaned liberally could not manage to exclude themselves from the vote, even though their friends or family members boycotted it to protest the system.

“We did not vote because of Hemmati himself,” said Milad, 34, a bank employee who came to Hosseinieh Ershad’s polling station to tell Mr. Hemmati te stem. Many voters refused to give full names for fear of speaking openly about politics. “We voted because, on the other hand, we wanted to show that there is still a voice of opposition in Iran. A weak voice of opposition is better than not at all. ‘

Voters on both sides broadly agree on the biggest issues facing the country: corruption, economic mismanagement and the US sanctions that are exacerbating Iran’s economic woes.

But when the moderate opposition was divided on whether they should vote, the Conservatives who turned out to vote were united behind Mr. Raisi, and, more importantly, the Islamic government for which his candidate came. (Mr Raisi’s campaign posters include him regularly with Ayatollah Khamenei and Major General Qassim Suleimani, the Iranian commander whose death in a US airstrike last year brought many mourners to the streets.)

“Despite all the shortcomings and shortcomings, we love our nation, and we will defend it to the last drop of blood,” Marziyeh Gorji, 34, who works in a government office, said. Raisi voted because of his ties to revolutionary figures and his experience. “The people are upset, I understand that. But not voting is not the answer. ”

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She points to her five-year-old twin sons, who are wearing buttons with General Suleimani’s face. “I will raise them to be like General Suleimani,” she said.

In the Lorzadeh Mosque in southern Tehran, a poor and religiously conservative neighborhood, Muhammad Ehsani, 61, a retired government employee, said his ballot paper was a sign of faith in the ideals of the Islamic revolution that the brought current leadership of Iran to power.

Being a citizen was like riding a bus, he said. If it’s not going well – as every voter agrees, it was not – the problem was with the driver, not with the bus.

“What should we do?” he said. ‘It’s not logical to sit at home and not go on. It makes sense to get another company, another manager. ”

A banner with a photo of General Suleimani was draped over the entrance to the mosque, with the words: ‘The Islamic Republic is considered a shrine. Those who vote defend the sanctuary. ”

According to the news agency Tasnim, which is affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, the mood of the morning was damaged by widespread reports of electronic voting systems malfunctioning and going from polling stations across Iran. When the polls opened Friday morning, voters turned up to hear they could not vote, and several polling stations had to delay their opening by more than an hour, Tasnim reported.

“This is an epidemic of ballot boxes that is not working right now,” Kian Abdollahi, editor-in-chief of Tasnim, said during a live election report on Clubhouse, the audio-only app for social media. “This is unacceptable given concerns about the low election.”

The governor of Tehran confirmed that there were technical problems with electronic voting systems at 79 polling stations in the capital.

It was not immediately clear what caused the problems.

Outside the ballot box Hosseinieh Ershad, Shabna (40), a government employee who works in information technology and also gave only one name, alternately threw her fist in the air when she thundered “I support Hemmati” and snatched her colorful headscarf, which slipped too amidst all the excitement, back in its place.

“We want to stop this technical election,” she said, explaining that she believes Mr. Hemmati, as an economist, best qualified to turn the economy around. A minute later, she was caught in an argument with a Hemmati critic.

But most voters surveyed on Friday apparently did not have such strong opinions about any particular candidate. They were there to vote because they always had, or because they believed in the system.

Efat Rahmati, 54, a nurse, said it was strange that the Iranian authorities had excluded so many candidates from the race, which according to many Iranians paved the way for Mr. Raisi to win. But she still decided to vote, partly out of personal taste for Mr. Raisi, and partly because the authorities ‘have more knowledge than I do about this issue’, she said. “I think Raisi was better than the rest anyway.”

Farnaz Fassihi contributed reports from New York.

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