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In Iran’s low-turnout election, many voters appear to stay home

Published: Updated:

As Iranian state TV showed people streaming to cast their ballots Friday and news anchors praised them for coming out to vote, very different scenes played out on Tehran’s streets, where many polling places appeared relatively empty.

Amid rising anger and apathy over a presidential vote tipped in favor of Ebrahim Raisi, the hard-line judiciary chief cultivated by Iran’s supreme leader, the election atmosphere was distinctly subdued.

In past elections, long lines snaked out of polling stations. Cars and minibuses zigzagged through the capital’s chaotic streets blaring campaign slogans. Banners too big to miss championed the various candidates and blanketed buildings.

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But this year, the streets were calm, traffic was light and the typical zeal was absent even from state television, which offered only tight shots of people putting paper ballots into boxes. Few, if any, other voters could be seen in the background.

“It is useless,” said Ali Hosseini, a 36-year-old unemployed resident in southern Tehran, about the exercise of voting. “Anyone who wins the election after some time says he cannot solve problem of the economy because of intervention by influential people. He then forgets his promises and we poor people again are disappointed.”

Throngs of reporters packed Tehran’s turquoise-domed Hosseinieh Ershad institute, photographing officials and ordinary Iranians casting ballots. The images of journalists pushing and jostling in the polling place were carried by local media and international broadcasters.

But that scene was at odds with what people saw at 16 different polling stations across Tehran, where lines were short and no more than eight voters at a time could be seen casting ballots. Some polls remained virtually deserted throughout the day — a stark contrast to ice cream shops and restaurants nearby. Of two dozen voters interviewed at various stations, more than half said they’d voted for Raisi. Listless poll workers listened to state radio, looked at their phones or chatted calmly.

While the government’s turnout figures weren’t expected until Saturday, the state-linked Iranian Student Polling Agency earlier this week estimated a turnout of just above 40%, which would be the lowest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.