“Look at this,” she said. “I voted for 40 years, there is hardly any room left.
The widow and mother of a stay-at-home child lives in a small rented apartment in the south of Iran’s capital, Tehran. She relies on a weekly payment sent by her 30-year-old son, who lives with his wife and has a child on the way.
Under immense financial pressure and seeing no clear way out, she did not want to vote in the Iranian presidential election this time around – but was persuaded by her son.
“The last time I voted for the key, this time I’m voting for the lock to see what happens,” Mehri told Al Jazeera on Friday in reference to what has become the electoral symbol for incumbent President Hassan Rouhani. when he first appeared in 2013, and again in 2017, and his opponent Ebrahim Raisi.
Raisi, the current chief justice, was largely defeated in 2017 when he received nearly 16 million votes, or 38%, against more than 23 million ballots, or 57%.
This time, however, he is by far the favorite among the four presidential candidates.
Inside the polling stations installed at Shah Abdol-Azim shrine, a major monument in Rey, one of the southernmost districts of the capital, everyone seemed to want to vote for him.
“I hope he goes ahead with a plan and can solve people’s problems,” Afsaneh Norouzi, 40, told Al Jazeera of the Tory candidate beloved by the so-called camp revolutionary and its base.
“This inflation and high cost are hurting people. I hope what he is saying is not just a slogan and that he can really take action, ”said the housewife, who was there with her daughter, who was voting for the first time.
A group of young men, all also voting for the first time, chatted among themselves as they voted in the scorching heat of the afternoon sun.
They seemed nonchalant. “I don’t have any special expectations,” one said after voting for Raisi, another adding, “We just got caught up in the buzz, we don’t really know what to expect. “
Debate on participation
In an election where the winner seems almost certain, turnout – which many expect to be low – has become a central issue.
About 59.3 million of Iran’s roughly 83 million people are eligible to vote, of which more than 1.3 million are first-time voters.
The number of eligible voters also includes around 3.5 million Iranians living outside the country, according to Iran’s Foreign Ministry, which said ballots are accepted at Iranian embassies and consulates in 133 country.
The ministry severely criticized Canada, where around 400,000 Iranians are eligible, for refusing to allow the vote, telling Iranians to head instead to stations in several neighboring US states.
While Iranian conservative media reports on Friday indicated that the turnout could be higher than expected, the election is still expected to have one of the lowest voter turnouts since the 1979 revolution.
The lowest presidential turnout in the past four decades was just over 50% in 1993, when the late Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was re-elected. The legislative elections last year, which were also marked by a large disqualification of reformists, as in the presidential poll, recorded a turnout of 42%.
The low public enthusiasm for the election is something that is also reflected in the rhetoric of Iranian officials ahead of the election.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a televised speech on Wednesday that while he acknowledged that some people were dissatisfied with the state of the economy and their livelihoods, they should not. not evade the polls because that would increase Iran’s external pressure. enemies ”.
After voting earlier on Friday, he said: “Even one vote counts, no one has to say what will happen with my one vote?” “
Although they have already criticized the “withdrawal” of reformist and moderate candidates by the monitoring body known as the Guardian Council and the threat this could pose to the legitimacy of the republic, all senior officials of the Rouhani’s government publicly urged people to vote.
“I’m just exhausted”
The message, however, seems to fall short of many Iranians who are worried about the future but also disillusioned with a host of issues – not only related to the economy, but also to social freedoms.
“I’m just exhausted by the pressure from inside and outside the country, and I have no hope that my vote will change anything this time around,” said a 28-year-old man, who has voted in 2017 and 2013, and who asked not to be nominated.
“I think at this point a false hope would be worse than feeling hopeless,” he told Al Jazeera, adding that he chose to stay on Friday.
Iran is subject to the toughest US sanctions it has ever seen after former President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned the 2015 Iran nuclear deal with world powers in 2018.
Another person, asking to remain anonymous, who had previously voted for Rouhani, also said they chose to abstain from voting this year.
“Maybe I would have voted if there was a chance Hemmati would win,” the 34-year-old said in reference to Abdolnaser Hemmati, one of the four candidates and the only moderate left on the ballot. to vote.
But voting under these circumstances, he said, “would only signal to the establishment that people vote regardless of the situation and therefore make it worse next time.”
Indeed, Hemmati himself and Rouhani have warned that “removing” candidates could not only undermine the legitimacy of the establishment and eliminate competition, but also undermine the republican element of the Islamic Republic.
“Whatever the result, I’m happy with my decision. My vote for Hemmati was a vote to preserve the republic and save Iran, ”wrote Twitter user Mahsa Soltani, accompanied by a photo of her with her vote.
Another user, journalist Zeinab Safari, tweeted that she voted “not to win anything, but to avoid losing what little remains”.