Iran General NewsDesire for change unlikely to show

Desire for change unlikely to show

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The Times: In an almost deserted polling station in north Tehran yesterday The Times asked the woman in charge how many people had voted. She passed the question to another official. “One hundred and thirty-five,” he replied in Farsi. The woman turned back to us. “More than 300,” she said in English. The Times

Martin Fletcher and Ramita Navai in Tehran

In an almost deserted polling station in north Tehran yesterday The Times asked the woman in charge how many people had voted (Martin Fletcher and Ramita Navai write).

She passed the question to another official. “One hundred and thirty-five,” he replied in Farsi. The woman turned back to us. “More than 300,” she said in English.

About 44 million Iranians were eligible to vote in elections for a new Majlis (parliament). Results are not expected for several days but conservatives are bound to win: so many reformists, and so many of their big names, were disqualified that they were able to contest fewer than half of the 290 seats.

The main interest lies in whether “pragmatic” conservatives critical of President Ahmadinejad’s confronta-tional foreign policy and dismal economic record will do better than his hardline conservatives, and what that will say about his chances of winning reelection next year.

The authorities’ immediate concern was to ensure the biggest possible turn-out so that the election had some legitimacy. They were making bold claims. “I predict there will be at least 60 per cent participation,” Gholam Hossein Elham, the government spokesman, said halfway through the day.

Older, rural and more religious Iranians were expected to vote in large numbers, but the authorities were battling deep disillusionment among younger voters. Their hopes of a freer life were dashed when conservatives thwarted the reformist Government of President Khatami and then ousted it in the presidential election of 2005.

In a Tehran coffee shop Sharouz, 32, a civil engineer, explained why he would not vote. He was one of thousands of students who fought for reform in the late 1990s. “We really thought we could change things,” he said. “I now realise I can’t change a thing.” Reza, 30, another activist from the 1990s, refused to vote lest he gave the result validity: “I don’t recognise this Government and this system.”

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