The Iranian regime is banking on a large number of voters turning out in Friday’s parliamentary election and state media is leaving nothing to chance. In a live broadcast on the main government-controlled news channel, a bride and groom cast their ballots at a polling station. The man said: “voting is a religious and a patriotic duty”. The scene was a fitting image to go with the metaphor of “celebration” that the IRINN news network has adopted for this vote.
Upbeat folklore music blasted in the background of broadcasts beaming from Tehran today. Minorities – Kurds, Azeris, Arabs – are shown pledging their allegiance to the Islamic Republic’s values and declaring their national pride.
A favourite shot is Iranians queuing to cast their vote. Almost 48 million of the country’s 75 million population are eligible to take part. The Interior Ministry has predicted over 60 percent participation. But sources across the country contradict this by talking about deserted stations and streets.
The election “will be grossly unfair because of arbitrary disqualifications and other restrictions,” according to New York-based organisation Human Rights Watch .
There is no space on the channel, however, for the opposition that has widely boycotted the polls, while their leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karrubi, have been put under house arrest for more than a year over their rejection of the result of the 2009 presidential election that kept incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in power.
The state broadcaster says 1,650 journalists are covering the election. Foreign reporters, however, are only given restricted access to selected polling stations. CNN correspondent Ivan Watson tweeted from Tehran: “This is the 1st election I’ve covered anywhere in the world where authorities ordered reporters on buses to cover the vote.”
The disqualification of the so-called “reformist” candidates has left the contest a battleground for different conservative factions. This is the 30th election held by the Islamic Republic since a revolution toppled the monarchy in 1979. The domestic impact aside, the regime has always bragged about the number of elections it has held and their high turnout as proof of its legitimacy.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested after casting his vote that his country is in a “more sensitive” state now because of its enemies repeatedly talking of sanctions and human rights. “The higher turnout, the better for the future prestige and security of our country,” he said.
The mood on social media today echoes a famous quote widely attributed to the American novelist Mark Twain: “if voting made any difference, they wouldn’t let us do it.”