Reuters: A leading hardline cleric urged Iranians on Friday to turn out in force for presidential elections next week, warning that a low turnout would be a defeat for the Islamic republic.
Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati refrained from endorsing any of the eight men vying for the job in June 17 polls, but called on people to defy Iran’s “enemies” by ensuring a high turnout. Reuters
By Parisa Hafezi
TEHRAN – A leading hardline cleric urged Iranians on Friday to turn out in force for presidential elections next week, warning that a low turnout would be a defeat for the Islamic republic.
Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati refrained from endorsing any of the eight men vying for the job in June 17 polls, but called on people to defy Iran’s “enemies” by ensuring a high turnout.
“The prestige of the Islamic republic depends on your votes. It is our religious and political duty to vote,” Jannati told worshippers at Friday prayers at Tehran University. “Your votes will make the country stronger.”
The clerical establishment has been trying to overcome apathy and disillusionment among voters, particularly young Iranians, over the slow pace of President Mohammad Khatami’s reforms since his landslide election wins in 1997 and 2001.
Khatami is barred from standing for a third consecutive term.
Half the country’s 67 million people are under 25 and the minimum voting age is 15. But many have indicated they will not vote.
Jannati said the country’s enemies, a reference to the United States, had been trying to discourage Iranian voters through the “bombardment of hostile propaganda,” aimed at questioning the Islamic states’ legitimacy.
“If you want to make America angry, make queues at voting booths,” Jannati said.
Washington accuses Iran of sponsoring “terrorism” and trying to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charges.
“Cast your vote as each vote means Death to America,” Jannati said in a speech broadcast live by state media.
The crowd of worshippers broke into repeated chants of “Death to America,” denouncing the Islamic republic’s arch-foe.
As the elections draw near, the Islamic state has mounted a media campaign to urge a big turnout, which officials say would show the popularity and legitimacy of the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, bidding to regain the post he held from 1989 to 1997, is considered the most moderate of the five conservative candidates vying to replace Khatami. Three reformists are also standing.
Rafsanjani holds a commanding lead in opinion polls but is still well short of the 50 percent support he needs to avoid a run-off vote. Former police chief, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, is second in the polls.
Prominent among the large banners at the prayer meeting was one that declared “Iranians, despite the conspiracies of America, will go to the polls.”
All eight presidential rivals, aware of the importance of appealing to young voters, have been promising in their campaign messages to create more jobs and ease social restrictions.
But some people remain unconvinced.
“Why should I vote when each vote means a vote for the clerical rule?” said Mahin, 25, one of many young people who seem set to challenge the Islamic state by boycotting the vote.