Iranians divided on presidential vote as hardships mount, want winner to ‘act humanely’

Five hardliners, one relative moderate to vie in June 28 election after earning approval of Guardian Council, as country’s financial woes, women’s rights loom large in voters’ minds

Illustrative: A woman walks past electoral posters in Tehran on June 20, 2024, ahead of the June 28 election to replace President Ebrahim Raisi, who was killed in a helicopter crash. (Atta Kenare / AFP)
Illustrative: A woman walks past electoral posters in Tehran on June 20, 2024, ahead of the June 28 election to replace President Ebrahim Raisi, who was killed in a helicopter crash. (Atta Kenare / AFP)

TEHRAN, Iran (AFP) — With just a week remaining before a presidential election, Iranians are divided over whether voting will address pressing economic issues and mandatory hijab laws.

Iranians head to the polls on June 28 to choose from six candidates — five conservatives and a relative reformist — to succeed Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash in May.

The election comes as Iran grapples with economic pressures, international sanctions and enforcement of the compulsory headscarves for women.

“They promise change, but won’t do much,” said Hamid Habibi, a 54-year-old shop owner at Tehran’s bustling Grand Bazar.

“I’ve watched the debates and campaigns; they speak beautifully but need to back their words with action,” he said.

Despite his skepticism, Habibi plans to vote next week.

Illustrative: A man walks past electoral posters in Tehran on June 20, 2024, ahead of the June 28 election to replace President Ebrahim Raisi, who was killed in a helicopter crash. (Atta Kenare / AFP)

The candidates have held two debates, each pledging to tackle the financial challenges impacting the country’s 85 million people.

“The economic situation is deteriorating daily, and I don’t foresee any improvements,” said Fariba, a 30-year-old who runs an online store.

“Regardless of who wins, our lives won’t change,” she said.

Six candidates face off at a June 20, 2024, presidential debate at the Iran Television studio in Tehran. Left to right: incumbent Vice President Amirhossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi; conservative presidential hopeful Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf; Mostafa Pourmohammadi, the only cleric in the running; Tehran’s conservative mayor Alireza Zakani; reformist candidate Massoud Pezeshkian; ultraconservative former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili. (Morteza Fakhrinejad / IRIBNEWS / AFP photo)

‘No difference’

Others, like 57-year-old baker Taghi Dodangeh, remain hopeful.

“Change is certain,” he said, viewing voting as a religious duty and national obligation.

But Jowzi, a 61-year-old housewife, expressed doubts, especially about the candidate line-up.

“There’s hardly any differences between the six,” she said. “One cannot say any of them belongs to a different group.”

Iran’s Guardian Council approved six candidates after disqualifying most moderates and reformists.

Speaker of the Iranian parliament and conservative presidential hopeful Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf speaks during a presidential debate in Tehran, June 20, 2024. (Morteza Fakrinejad / IRIBNEWS / AFP photo)

Leading contenders include conservative parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, ultraconservative former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and the sole reformist candidate, Masoud Pezeshkian.

Keshvar, a 53-year-old mother, intends to vote for the candidate with the most robust economic plan.

“Young people are grappling with economic hardships,” she said.

“Raisi made efforts, but on the ground, things didn’t change much for the general public, and they were unhappy.”

In the 2021 election that brought Raisi to power, many voters stayed away, resulting in a participation rate just under 49 percent — the lowest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

File – Former Iranian top nuclear negotiator and ultraconservative presidential hopeful, Saeed Jalili, center, arrives at his campaign meeting in Tehran, Iran, June 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

‘Act humanely’

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has urged a high voter turnout.

Yet, 26-year-old shopkeeper Mahdi Zeinali said he would only vote if a candidate proves to be “the right person.”

This election comes at a turbulent time, with the Gaza war raging between Iran’s proxy Hamas and adversary Israel, along with ongoing diplomatic tensions over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

Compulsory hijab laws remain contentious, particularly since mass protests triggered by the 2022 death in custody of Mahsa Amini.

File – Iranians protest the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was detained by the morality police, in Tehran, October 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Middle East Images, File)

Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, was detained for an alleged breach of Iran’s dress code for women, who are required to cover their heads and necks and wear modest clothing in public.

Despite increased enforcement, many women, especially in Tehran, defy the dress code.

Fariba expressed concern that after the election, “things would go back to where they were,” and young women won’t be able to remove their headscarves.

File – A protester shows a portrait of Mahsa Amini during a demonstration to support Iranian protesters standing up to their leadership over the death of a young woman in police custody, in Paris, France, October 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard)

Jowzi, an undecided voter who wears a veil, regards it as a “personal” choice and opposes state interference.

“It makes no difference who becomes president,” she said.

“What’s important is what they actually do. It’s not important to me whether or not they have a turban. They need to act humanely.”

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