TEHRAN (AFP) — In a working-class district of Tehran teeming with porters, motorbikes and pickup trucks, residents have little enthusiasm about next week’s presidential election.
Iranians have tried it all — reformists, establishment figures, rabble-rousing populists, and for the past four years a moderate cleric, President Hassan Rouhani, who struck a historic deal to reintegrate Iran into the world.
But residents of Molavi, in the capital’s south, say their lives have seen little improvement.
Once a major commercial center, the district’s shops today are shabby and streaked with the soot of a million exhausts.
“I don’t see anything special happening in the future, no matter who becomes president,” said 35-year-old clothing salesman Babak Kiani.
“I may vote, but I know it doesn’t change anything.”
Molavi sits near the end of a major north-south artery that cuts through the middle of the capital — far from the chic new coffee shops and flashy malls of north Tehran.
Officials fear that voters in poorer areas like this will shun the May 19 election, dealing a blow to the regime’s legitimacy.
Residents say they feel ignored by the six candidates approved by the conservative-dominated Guardian Council to stand in next Friday’s election.
“No one talks about us,” said Mohsen, who works in wholesale at the local bazaar and only gave his first name.
In televised presidential debates, “nobody talks about a young man who is 30 but can’t start a family because he has no money,” he said.
Rouhani’s government has put an end to hyperinflation and negotiated the lifting of many economic sanctions over Iran’s nuclear programme.
But Mohsen said he had faced a tough four years.
‘Our cheques keep bouncing’
“We don’t buy or sell anything,” he said. “Our checks keep bouncing.”
He said social restrictions and heavy-handed police seem as prevalent as they were before, despite Rouhani’s promises to free up society.
Mohsen criticised a recent ban on concerts and cafes in the holy city of Mashhad.
He said his car had been impounded for a month because he turned up the volume of his stereo after his football team won a big match.
Some residents still have fond memories of Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — despite his controversial statements that escalated tensions between Iran and Western powers.
Many working-class Iranians fondly recall his cash handouts and development projects — even if they caused massive inflation and left Tehran littered with unused buildings.
“I only want to vote for Ahmadinejad,” said Nasser Zamani, a security guard.
“Things were great and there was abundance under Ahmadinejad. I worked in construction and the job market was really good… God, he was a great president.”
But the powerful Guardian Council in April blocked Ahmadinejad and hundreds of other hopefuls from standing.
Zamani said he would vote for hardline Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf instead.
But many in the neighbourhood echoed the disillusionment of housewife Nadia Ghelichi, who said she had little hope things would improve.
“Poverty and unemployment have increased and young people are becoming addicted to drugs,” she said.
“In the past four years there have been nothing but negative results.”