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Politics

Iran's Silent Protest: Why Many Refuse to Cast Their Ballot

June 25, 2024
Ata Mahamad
4 min read
The divide is not new. The last three elections have seen declining turnout. Photo: Arash Khamooshi/NYT
The divide is not new. The last three elections have seen declining turnout. Photo: Arash Khamooshi/NYT
Official campaigns promote participation with slogans like "For Iran" and "For progress," but a significant portion of the population appears disenchanted.
Official campaigns promote participation with slogans like "For Iran" and "For progress," but a significant portion of the population appears disenchanted.
On the streets and social media, counter-slogans such as "Our vote will be overturned" and hashtags like "I will not vote" and "Election boycott" are gaining traction
On the streets and social media, counter-slogans such as "Our vote will be overturned" and hashtags like "I will not vote" and "Election boycott" are gaining traction
This sentiment is reflected in recent polls and low engagement with election debates, with 73 per cent of Iranians reportedly not watching them
This sentiment is reflected in recent polls and low engagement with election debates, with 73 per cent of Iranians reportedly not watching them
این روزها برخی «برای ایران»، برخی برای «پیشرفت» و دیگرانی برای «یک جهان فرصت»، مردم را به مشارکت در انتخابات دعوت می‌کنند؛ اما در خیابان‌ها شعار «رای ما سرنگونی» دیوارنویسی می‌شود
این روزها برخی «برای ایران»، برخی برای «پیشرفت» و دیگرانی برای «یک جهان فرصت»، مردم را به مشارکت در انتخابات دعوت می‌کنند؛ اما در خیابان‌ها شعار «رای ما سرنگونی» دیوارنویسی می‌شود

As Iran's presidential election approaches, the country finds itself deeply divided.

Official campaigns promote participation with slogans like "For Iran" and "For progress," but a significant portion of the population appears disenchanted.

On the streets and social media, counter-slogans such as "Our vote will be overturned" and hashtags like "I will not vote" and "Election boycott" are gaining traction.

This sentiment is reflected in recent polls and low engagement with election debates, with 73 per cent of Iranians reportedly not watching them.

The approval of a reformist candidate has rekindled hope for some, leading to calls for participation and criticism of non-voters.

However, this has only deepened the rift between those who see voting as a path to change and those who view the election as futile.

This divide is not new. The last three elections have seen declining turnout.

Many Iranians cite various reasons for abstaining, from disillusionment with the political system to concerns about the authenticity of the electoral process.

While a substantial segment of Iranian society remains indifferent to the elections, the reformists' inclination to participate has once again highlighted the divide between voting and not voting in Iran's political landscape.

Various individuals and groups have presented numerous reasons for abstaining from the elections, resulting in a multitude of statements, writings, and speeches.

Narges Mohammadi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate currently imprisoned in Tehran's Evin prison, has opted to boycott the election, denouncing it as "illegal."

In a statement issued from Evin prison, Mohammadi declared, "I refuse to participate in the illegal elections of a repressive and illegitimate government."

She sharply criticized the Islamic Republic, questioning, "How can you present a ballot box to the people while wielding knives, guns, and prisons against them with deceitful and manipulative language?"

Echoing this sentiment, a student from Sharif University of Technology's Students' Islamic Association, speaking in front of Masoud Pezeshkian, read a statement labeling participation in the elections as pointless.

The statement emphasized, "We hold the pen amidst fear for our lives, not under the protection of free speech."

It further challenged the authorities, stating, "Pezeshkian, let's be brief. We know many issues fall beyond the president's powers, and you likely lack answers.

If you can't address these concerns, it's better not to perpetuate the illusion of democracy with this repetitive charade. The government's approved candidate should be simply reappointed."

Last week, ten student organizations, two student unions, and a coalition of civil and political activists jointly issued a statement demanding a "boycott of the presidential elections."

They criticized these elections as "ridiculous," asserting that Guardian Council-approved candidates do not represent the people but serve as "tools for the perpetrators of crimes against humanity."

The statement condemned elections in the Islamic Republic "as appointments by government officials dedicated to maintaining a misogynistic, oppressive system of imprisonment, torture, and execution."

Similarly, sixteen international parties, organizations, and political groups released a joint statement declaring that "sanctioning the election campaign is a citizen's responsibility."

They declared, "Iranian citizens will no longer auction their votes for the sake of the system's expediency."

The organizations and political entities emphasized their boycott of the presidential elections, affirming, "To safeguard Iran's civilization and culture, to establish true democracy, and to defend freedom and human rights, we will remain at home and keep the streets quiet on June 28."

Civil activist and lawyer Giti Pourfazel echoed these sentiments last week, observing that past elections have rendered elected candidates powerless, reduced to mere executors of orders.

Pourfazel urged those "fixated on elections to abandon false hope and engage with vigilant agents of change instead."

Mehdi Mahmoudian, a former political prisoner and reformist activist, similarly criticized the current state of Iran in a social media post, highlighting three reasons for his refusal to vote.

Filmmaker and women's rights activist Mozhgan Ilanlu joined the boycott, asserting that "without a genuine representative in the election, selling one's vote serves no purpose."

Ilanlu emphasized that boycotting elections represents a non-violent method of challenging the government.

Meanwhile, civil activist Golrokh Iraei, incarcerated in Evin prison, used social media to accuse reformists of betrayal dating back to the Islamic Republic's inception and blaming them for historical injustices and human rights abuses.

Iraei warned that the Iranian people would not forget those who remained loyal to the Islamic Republic and vowed they would be held accountable for their actions.

Sedigheh Vasmaghi, a political activist, shared her thoughts on Instagram, stating, "Today, the government finds itself powerless in the face of the powerful and all-encompassing trend of change, which has penetrated to the depths of the government forces."

Addressing reformists directly, Vasmaghi cautioned, "Reformist friends! Be smart, lest you fall into the trap of tyranny, face the historical and inevitable trend of change."

She described the electoral process as "a ceremonial event," adding, "The elected officials are the executors of higher orders, the people's wishes are not the criteria in this system."

She emphasized the entrenched nature of the power structure, asserting, "The power structure has left no room for change."

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