Economic woes put Iran vote in the shade

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Economic woes put Iran vote in the shade

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Iran’s first parliamentary elections since the controversial presidential ballot in 2009 have failed to grab public interest and campaigning has been lacklustre.

The vote comes down to a battle between traditional conservatives supporting the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, always pictured with Ayatollah Khomeini, and those backing President Mahmoud Ahmajinedad’s government.

The reformist opposition, whose leaders are under house arrest, has called for a boycott and 35 percent of would-be candidates were vetoed by Iran’s Guardian Council.

But for many Iranians, the elections are the least of their worries.

“I think the economy has become a large part of people’s lives,” said one man. “The elections have lost their colour because of rising prices, especially over the past two months. I don’t think they’ll be as sensational as in the past.”

The economy has nosedived in the last 18 months. Officially, inflation stands at 21 percent but critics say the real figure is 50 percent and tens of thousands of Iranians have lost their jobs.

It is partly a result of international sanctions on Iran’s oil industry and financial institutions because of Tehran’s nuclear programme. But that is not the only reason.

The axing of subsidies for basic foods and fuel has turned many against Ahmajinedad’s government.

But they are not necessarily voting for Khamenei’s candidates.

“I myself have never voted,” said another man. “I don’t think the votes of people like me will have an impact on the elections because I don’t have anyone who would represent me, who I would want to vote for. I mean, there is no one I could say speaks on my behalf in Parliament or the presidency.”

The rial is now worth just half of what it was against the dollar in December, despite measures taken by Iran’s central bank to shore it up. Iranians are at a loss to protect their savings while the government downplays the impact of sanctions.

But the apathy is not universal. Some Iranians see these problems as the very reason why they should vote.

“It is 100 percent our individual votes, which can be a force for change. In my opinion this is truly the right time to be present. I will vote 100 percent,” said a student.

A nationalist reflex against perceived external enemies may also help boost turnout, especially away from Tehran and other major cities. The message on one banner read: ‘The election represents the existence and the conscience of the nation.’