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June 12, 2009
Iranians pull election lever en masse

Today, Iranians exercise their right to vote in a hotly contested election that pits incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against three opponents. Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former prime minister, is the most highly regarded of the challengers to the hardline and inflammatory conservative.

Bloggers around the world are expressing surprise at the vitality of the Iranian public. For weeks, the campaign has featured painted activists and heated debates. The pivotal issues in this election include diplomacy with the U.S. and economic reforms. Due to heavy turnout, voting has been extended, and the tallies will begin coming in throughout the night.

Sanaz Arjomand writes from Maragheh in northern Iran:

The general trend seems to be that Mousavi is the best of the bad choices (which reminds me of Bush vs. Kerry), especially in large cities. Because Ahmadinejad has been handing out chickens and potatoes in the rural areas, though, his backing is still fairly strong. The outcome depends mostly on whether the population of youth (about 70%) or the population of poorer Iranians makes a stronger showing at the polls. The thing that I’ve noticed the most, however, is that nobody has any hope that the election will turn out the way they hope (i.e. Mousavi supporters are sure Ahmadinejad will cheat and win, and Ahmadinejad supporters are dismayed by the fanfare surrounding Mousavi’s campaign), nor any hope that this election will really change anything.

Either way, my Iranian birth certificate is in my purse and I’m ready to cast my vote. As they were singing on the streets of Tehran, “Ahmadi bye-bye!”

The media buzz suggests that women and young people are largely casting votes against Ahmadinejad. Mousavi’s wife has attracted huge crowds at campaign rallies. Marzieh Ghiasi, an Iranian in Canada, enthusiastically comments on a historic vote:

While cynicism remains strong and every candidate can be criticized and rightfully so, I can’t help but admire those who go to the polls to make a sincere effort towards a better tomorrow. They go with optimism and the hope that promises that have been made will be delivered. Whatever the outcome of this election, with a vote-turnout that is expected to reach into 80% (pretty incredible!), I am most glad that Iranians are so passionate about the opportunity to vote and take their fate into their own hands. I hope the same kind of fervor and call to responsibility is carried on in the post-election era because as it goes… any day without apathy is a good day.

A Turkish blogger, Sinan Kolat, describes the symbolism of this election from his vantage point in Istanbul.

It seems as the tables have turned as the color green, the symbol of Islam, is now the color of reform. Mousavi’s campaign uses it well and the youth in the streets of Tehran have been demonstrating fiercely under their new symbol. The photos coming from the country shows the change and hope, with women[‘s] hair clearly visible. Just like wearing a turban is a political, rather than religious, symbol in Turkey; not wearing a turban is a political symbol in Iran.

Hamid Taqvaee, the current leader of the Worker-Communist Party of Iran, is seen as one of the most vocal and radical figures opposed to the Islamic Republic:

Only the factions closest to the state and only those given the go ahead by Khamenei, the supreme spiritual leader, can participate. The rest are excluded. Only the closest insiders can run and that is why the final few candidates are always pillars of the regime…Look at this election – from Ahmadinejad, Karoubi, Mousavi to Rezai – all have been instrumental in the repression and executions that have taken place.

Even many in their own ‘second Khordad’ or ‘reformist’ faction are not allowed to participate in the election. If in Turkey or Pakistan a Council of Guardians decided on who could run, the election would be canceled! In other elections, if a candidate gets less television airtime than another, complaints are made to rectify the situation. Now if you compare the situation in Iran with that of Sweden or Denmark or France, you will see that even in the first instance what happens in Iran is anything but an election!

Campaigners and voters have shown tremendous passion for the political process and debates. Mahaan, an Iranian-American blogger, suggests:

It has been an unbelievable 2 weeks in Iran. Hot series of TV debates and constant party mode on the streets which was the best sample of tolerance and respect among the citizens, gave all of us a surprising image of our society. Independent of it, this election has given a new shape to the Iranian political and civil discourse.

The sucky part was the low key coverage that the western media gave to these events. Until last Wednesday, the coverage was minimal and even after that, it never reached the level that many smaller Iranian events (small student protest, or Roxana Saberi’s court) were covered. Maybe this relates to a higher level western policy of silence and respect that exist these days with respect to this election.

For more, view our Voices of Iran extended coverage page and listen to our online radio show on Baha’i faith and modern Iran.

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