As Iranian state TV showed people streaming to cast their ballots Friday and information anchors commended them for coming out to vote, different scenes performed on Tehran’s streets, where several polling places appeared relatively empty.
In past elections, long lines snaked from polling stations. Cars and minibuses zigzagged through the capital’s chaotic streets blaring campaign slogans. Banners too big to miss championed the various applicants and blanketed buildings.
However, this year, the roads were composed, traffic was light and the normal zeal was absent from state television, which offered only tight shots of people putting paper ballots into boxes. Few, if some other voters could be observed in the backdrop.
“It’s futile,” said Ali Hosseini, a 36-year-old jobless resident in southern Tehran, in regards to the practice of voting. “Anyone who wins the election after some time states that he cannot solve problem of the economy because of intervention by influential people. Then he forgets his claims and we poor individuals are disappointed”
Throngs of reporters packed Tehran’s turquoise-domed Hosseinieh Ershad institute, photographing officials and regular Iranians casting ballots. The images of journalists pushing and jostling from the polling area were carried by local media and global broadcasters.
But that scene was at odds with what folks saw at 16 different polling stations across Tehran, where traces were short and no longer than eight Republicans at a time could be viewed casting ballots. Some polls stayed virtually deserted throughout the afternoon — a stark contrast to ice cream stores and restaurants nearby. Of two dozen Republicans interviewed at various stations, over half said they had voted for Raisi. Listless poll workers listened to state radio, looked at their phones or cried calmly.
While the authorities turnout figures were not expected until Saturday, the state-linked Iranian Student Polling Agency earlier this week estimated that a turnout of just above 40%, that would be the lowest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Signs of stress over turnout began to emerge at the highest levels of Iran’s leadership days before polls opened. Fearing a boycott that might undermine the trustworthiness of the theocratic system, officials across the political spectrum — in the highly effective hard-line Revolutionary Guard to comparatively moderate incoming President Hassan Rouhani — encouraged people to vote. In an unprecedented televised address on the last day of campaigning, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned sternly of”overseas plots” to maintain voters dwelling and described involvement as a means to show defiance toward the West amid heightened worries.