Iran General NewsIran's call to vote ignored by millions

Iran’s call to vote ignored by millions

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Daily Telegraph: Iran’s Supreme Leader cast his vote in parliamentary elections yesterday and, in his solemn and severe dark robes, told his compatriots that taking part was their “national and religious duty”. The Daily Telegraph

By David Blair in Tehran

Iran’s Supreme Leader cast his vote in parliamentary elections yesterday and, in his solemn and severe dark robes, told his compatriots that taking part was their “national and religious duty”.

Yet millions of Iranians appeared to be registering a silent protest against the regime by ignoring Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s plea.

Polling stations across Tehran were quiet, orderly and only sparsely attended. One virtually empty polling station in a mosque on Dowlat Street pointedly declined to say how many people had voted by 3pm. “You are not allowed to know that,” said the official in charge.

After about 90 per cent of reformist candidates were banned from contesting the election, Iran’s 70 million people – two thirds of whom are under 30 – were left to choose between an array of hardline conservatives.

State television devoted hours to exhorting people to vote, with one official feeling confident enough to proclaim a “glorious” response. But early signs suggested the turnout might equal the 52 per cent registered in the last election in 2004.

This compares with turnouts exceeding 80 per cent in the presidential polls of 1997 and 2001, both won by Mohammed Khatami, a reformist cleric.

At the gates of Tehran University, a polling station was devoid of students and served a modest procession of elderly men with white beards.

“All Iranians have a national duty to vote,” said Abbas Noroozi, 79, leaning heavily on a walking stick.

“Elections decide the destiny of the nation. The students will come to vote later. There is still time.”

Nearby, a preacher told an audience at Friday prayers that America was hoping for a low turnout. “Bush is interfering in Iran and asking people to stay away from the election. But Mr Bush, look and see that the Iranian people are voting,” he said, before leading vigorous chants of: “Death to America!”

Voting procedures could hardly be more cumbersome. In Tehran, Iranians must select 30 candidates – one for each of the city’s constituencies – then write out each name by hand and add a special code number. Processing one voter takes at least 15 minutes.

This was not why a 27-year-old student declined to participate. “I don’t agree with any of the candidates. We are only allowed to vote for the candidates who are approved by the government. So what is the point?” he asked. Another 25-year-old said: “I would have voted if the reformers had been allowed to stand.

“When Mr Khatami was president of Iran, he did much for the young and people were not miserable as they are today. But those who are responsible for the country now do nothing for us.”

Iran’s inflation runs at 20 per cent and crushing levels of unemployment blight the prospects of the young. This election might change the course of Iranian politics if hardline opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad do well. Whatever the outcome, however, Ayatollah Khamenei’s position as Iran’s chief power-broker will probably be reinforced.

But a low turnout would rob the contest of legitimacy and signal the quiet but persistent discontent of millions of young Iranians. Early results are expected tomorrow.

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