Tehran, Iran – Fifty-seven-year-old Mehri took out his ID and marked all the stamps.
“Look at this,” she said. “I’ve been voting for 40 years, there’s almost no room left.”
The widow who lives in her house lives in a small rented apartment south of the Iranian capital, Tehran. He relies on a weekly payment sent by his 30-year-old son, who lives with his wife and has a son along the way.
Under immense financial pressure and without seeing any clear way out, he did not want to vote in Iran presidential elections this time, but his son convinced him.
“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 became the election symbol of outgoing President Hassan Rouhani when the 2013, and again in 2017, and his opponent Ebrahim Raisi.
Raisi, the current chief judge, was defeated by a wide margin in 2017 when he received nearly 16 million votes, or 38%, to Rouhani’s more than 23 million votes, or 57%.
This time, however, he is by far the leader among the four presidential candidates.
Within the polling stations set up at the Shah Abdol-Azim shrine, an important monument in Rey, one of the southernmost areas of the capital, everyone seemed to want to vote for him.
“I hope he moves forward with a plan and can solve people’s problems,” Afsaneh Norouzi, 40, told Al Jazeera about the conservative candidate loved by the so-called revolutionary camp and its base.
“It simply came to our notice then. I hope what he says is not just a slogan and that he can actually act, ”said the housewife, who was there with her daughter, a first-time voter.
A group of young people, all also first-time voters, chatted to each other as they voted in the heat of the afternoon sun.
They seemed indifferent. “I have no special expectations,” one said after voting for Raisi, and another added, “We just got stuck, we don’t really know what to expect.”
Talk on participation
In an election where the winner seems almost certain, turnout – which many expect will be low – has become a central issue.
Approximately 59.3 million of Iran’s population, approximately 83 million, are eligible to vote, of whom more than 1.3 million are first-time voters.
The number of eligible voters also includes about 3.5 million Iranians living outside the country, according to Iran’s foreign ministry, which says votes are allowed at Iranian embassies and consulates in 133 countries.
The ministry has harshly criticized Canada, where there are about 400,000 eligible Iranians, for refusing to allow the vote, telling Iranians to go to stations established in several neighboring U.S. states instead.
Although Iranian conservative media reports on Friday indicated that turnout may be higher than expected, the election is expected to have one of the lowest turnout since the 1979 revolution.
The lowest presidential turnout in the last four decades was just over 50% in 1993, when the late Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani won re-election. Last year’s parliamentary elections, which were also marked by widespread disqualification of reformists, as in the presidential poll, accounted for 42% turnout.
The public’s lack of enthusiasm for the elections is also reflected in the rhetoric of Iranian officials leading to the polls.
On Wednesday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a televised speech that while acknowledging that some people were dissatisfied with the state of the economy and their livelihoods, no they must shun the ballot box, as it would increase Iran’s external pressure. “enemies.”
After voting Friday before, he said, “Even one vote is important, no one has to say what will happen to my single vote?”
Despite previously criticizing the “withdrawal” of reformist and moderate candidates by the veterinary body known as the Guardian Council and the threat it could pose to the legitimacy of the republic, all senior Rouhani government officials urged publicly people to vote.
The message, however, does not seem to reach many Iranians worried about the future, but also disappointed by a number of issues, not only limited to the economy, but also to social freedoms.
“I am exhausted from the pressure inside and outside the country, and I hope my vote can change nothing this time,” said a 28-year-old man, who voted in 2017 and 2013, and asked not to be named.
“I think right now the false hope would be worse than feeling desperate,” he told Al Jazeera, adding that he chose to stay there on Friday.
Iran is under the harshest US sanctions it has experienced after former President Donald Trump in 2018 unilaterally abandoned the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal with world powers.
Another person, who asked to remain anonymous, who had previously voted for Rouhani, also said he chose not to vote this year.
“Maybe I would have voted if there was a chance that Hemmati would win,” the 34-year-old said in reference to Abdolnaser Hemmati, one of four candidates and the only moderate left in the vote.
But voting in these circumstances, he said, “would only indicate to the establishment that people would vote regardless of the situation and that it would get worse next time.”
In fact, Hemmati himself and Rouhani have warned that “eliminating” 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 outcome, I’m happy with my decision. My vote for Hemmati was a vote to preserve the republic and save Iran, ”Twitter user Mahsa Soltani wrote, along with a photo of herself with her vote.
Another user, journalist Zeinab Safari, tweeted that she voted “not to gain anything, but to avoid losing what little is left.”