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Live Blog | Parliamentary Elections

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI, DAN GEIST, TEHRAN BUREAU STAFF, and CORRESPONDENTS

03 Mar 2012 03:45Comments

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Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Farsi and Arabic press and excerpts where the source is in English. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. Any views expressed are the authors' own. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

Background and History

Iran Standard Time (IRST), GMT+3:30

3:45 a.m. Tehran Bureau columnist Muhammad Sahimi takes a look at items appearing in the Persian-language online media:

Major grand ayatollahs who have been critical of the regime and its hardliners, including some who have explicitly backed the Green Movement, did not vote. Reports indicate that Grand Ayatollahs Seyyed Abdolkarim Mousavi Ardabili, Yousef Sanei, Hossein Vahid Khorasani (father-in-law of judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani), Seyyed Mousa Shobeiri Zanjani, Seyyed Mohammad Sadegh Rouhani, Seyyed Sadegh Shirazi, Seyyed Ali Mohammad Dastgheib, and Asadollah Bayat Zanjani did not go to the polls.

Pro-government clerics had called on all Iranians to vote as a religious duty. A cleric who in the past supported the reformists, Seyyed Hossein Mousavi Tabrizi, said that he voted early yesterday morning in Qom. Seyyed Hassan Khomeini, grandson of the founder of the Islamic Republic, who had voiced his support for the Green Movement, also voted.

Many video clips have been posted online that show totally deserted polling stations around Iran. See here for one in Karaj, and here for one in Isfahan. A collection of such clips is available here.

Reactionary cleric Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, the leader of Jebheh Paaydaari-e Enghelab-e Eslami (JPEE), one of the primary hardline groups competing in the elections, traveled to Tehran from Qom and voted in a housing complex that belongs to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Farhad Jafari, a supporter of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and author of the book Cafe Piano, expressed his gratitude to those supporters of the president who boycotted the elections. "I would like to thank those, who in defense of the rights and freedom of the Iranian people, and as a reaction to the ruling's group insistence to repeat the wrongdoings of the past three decades, some of which are glaringly obvious in the unfree and unfair elections of March 2...declared explicitly that they would not vote," Jafari wrote.

Zahra Eshraghi, granddaughter of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and wife of Mohammad Reza Khatami, younger brother of Mohammad Khatami, reacted to the news that the former president voted in spite of his calls to boycott the election: "It was a severe blow, but we will wait. This page [her Facebook page] is ready for Mr. Khatami [to explain what he did]." It appears that Khatami voted in the village of Vadan, near the resort town of Damavand, and was accompanied by his younger brother Ali Khatami. The cartoon below left, by Nikahang Kowsar for the Alireza Rezaei blog, shows Khatami walking through the blood of Neda Agha Soltan, the young woman whose killing during the demonstrations in the aftermath of the June 2009 presidential election became an international cause célèbre. The cartoon below right, "Isolated Initiative" by Mana Neyestani for Roozonline, recognizes the many who didn't vote.

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12:10 a.m., 13 Esfand/March 3 Here's how Press TV, the English-language subsidiary of state-owned Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, covered yesterday's vote:

Iran's election officials announce one hour before the end of the voting time for the ninth parliamentary election that an early ballot count shows a 64.6-percent voter turnout, Press TV report[s].

The 9th Majlis (parliamentary) election since the 1979 Islamic Revolution officially started across the country at 08:00 local time on Friday, and was initially scheduled to continue until 18:00.

People's overwhelming turnout, however, prompted officials to extend the original voting time by four hours in two stages: first to 21:00 local time and then to 22:00. [And then again to 23:00.]

An early ballot count, according to officials, showed that more than 31 million ballots were used by 21:00 local time, indicating an overall voter turnout of 64.6 percent.

Most provinces requested a voting time extension and more ballot paper with Kordestan province in west Iran among the provinces that requested more ballot paper.

That reported 64.6 percent participation rate is almost exactly what regime officials had been predicting in recent days -- and, of course, it doesn't even take into account the final two hours of voting.

The official Islamic Republic News Agency features a report on a statement by Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najar: "'The people of Islamic Iran with their massive turnout in the election showed the big powers that their anti-Iran propaganda failed and they should still remain faithful to ideals of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and ethical values.'" The English-language website of the semiofficial Mehr News Agency is running an election-day package with items emphasizing that "massive turnout" being reported by the government:

Tehran Governor General Morteza Tamaddon said that the turnout in Tehran Province was much higher in comparison with previous parliamentary elections.

"Tehran set a new record in terms of participation in the Majlis election," Tamaddon told reporters. [...]

Guardian Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaii said that according to the reports published [by] 11:00 a.m. -- three hours after the polling stations opened -- voter turnout showed an eight to nine percent increase in comparison to that of the last parliamentary election in 2008.

Asked about the people's enthusiasm for the election, he said that in some polling stations, the people reportedly had queued to vote four hours before the election began.

See below for the very different perspective on Iranians' enthusiasm for the elections that we've been hearing about from our contributors. The Christian Science Monitor's Scott Peterson notes that the picture drawn by a Tehran Bureau contributor of very sparse turnout at all but one of a dozen polling places she visited around the capital,

matched that described by The Wall Street Journal, which had a correspondent in Tehran and reported "minimal" or no turnout in middle-class and affluent neighborhoods.

"One polling station in northern Tehran said by mid-afternoon that no one had cast a ballot in the giant plastic box set on the table," the Journal reported.

Journal correspondent Bill Spindle was among dozens of foreign journalists loaded onto buses, taken to three busy polling stations, "and warned not to visit others on their own."

11:45 p.m. From a north Tehran resident:

I went out around 11 [in the morning] and was out walking along Pahlavi (Vali Asr) until Vanak Square and there was no one out! The street was pretty much deserted and I did not see any polling stations with anyone outside. Vanak Square was full of police cars all circled around.

The turnout is low and they are playing the usual game of showing pictures of a lot of people and saying this has been the greatest! Unfortunately, the lies here are so big and we are all so used to it that there is no longer an outrage factor. My friends tell me that the regime is counting on the villages and small towns. Tehran and [other] major cities will end up [with] secondary runoff elections.

The joke is the lists have 30 or more names on them and to expect anyone to know about this many candidates and select and elect from the lists is nuts. So I am certain that those who vote by the lists just go down and vote along the lines -- nothing more and nothing less.

What a shame to have all this infrastructure and to have taught the general populace for over 30 yrs about voting and to abuse it to this level.

My prediction is that the Ahmadinejad team will win the majority of single-candidate cities and if they are not cheated out of their votes (which they have bought dearly) they will get 150 to 160 seats [out of 290] and he would have the Majles all to [his] own (Mesbah Yazdi's faction is really a front for Ahmadinejad), and god help the chief mullah who may be banished to Qom soon or will see his maker. But my regime SAVAKI friends [in the intelligence services] tell me that it is all wrapped up and that the chief mullah will win as he has wished for. But I think it's a toss-up between the bad and the worst!

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11:15 p.m. More reaction to the news that ex-President Khatami voted today:

I accept that [according to a Qur'anic verse] we should expect of people no more than their capabilities. But if he cannot do anything, then he should withdraw from politics. He has committed treason several times. Perhaps, if in Khordad 2 [May 23, 1997], someone stronger like Mir [Hossein Mousavi] had been elected, instead of Khatami, the situation would not have become so bad. The "smiling seyyed" is a treacherous man. All you have to do to recognize this is think about [Mostafa] Tajzadeh, who said from prison that he would not vote, and all the others who are suffering. This comfort-wanting guy is trying to save himself.

Tajzadeh was deputy interior minister in the first Khatami administration. An outspoken reformist, he was incarcerated immediately after the 2009 presidential election. Convicted of such charges as "disrupting public order" and "insulting officials of the Islamic Republic," he remains imprisoned. Last July, he declared in an interview, "There is no middle ground. The reformists will take part only in democratic elections.... Either the elections will be free, with all the parties and free press, or we should not participate and leave them [Khamenei and Ahmadinejad's supporters] to play out the conflicts among themselves." Khatami made very similar pronouncements over the past year.

10:30 p.m. To protect their identities from government monitoring, many Iranian contributors communicate with us via circuitous routes. The following report came along an electronic path through Europe:

Up to now, there has been no TV report on the elections in Tehran or other major cities. Most of the things shown are for Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad [province in southwest Iran]. They just broadcast a report from Nazi-Abad [in south Tehran], but did not show any voting booth or line for voting. It was interview with two families. There was no young person in the crowd. Everybody is middle age or older. Women are all in chador. We have not even seen a women with Islamic hejab, but without the chador. They did show some pictures of voting in other cities, showing lines for voting. Interestingly, everyone was holding the birth certificate up in the air, indicating that the people shown were acting according to some instruction. Comparing these with those for the 2009 elections says a lot about the differences between the two. Based on what we have seen, it appears that the protesting sentiments have dominated over the national unity sentiment, far more strongly than most analysts had predicted.

The most important issue is whether the people feels that there is a national reaction, a unified determination, against the regime. If there is such a feeling in Iran, it would not be important what type of numbers the regime may claim. Whatever it says will bolster the national sentiment.

Another contributor writes, "They extended the voting period to 11:00 p.m., adding five extra hours beyond the official time. This is very interesting. In the 2009 elections, I saw many people waiting at Hosseinieh Ershad to vote, but were told to go away and did not extend the voting time more than one hour. Now, they are doing this." And another observes, "A thing that was very interesting for me was seeing some lines of people in which the men and women were mixed together!! They want to show long lines in some voting places by mixing women and men!"

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10 p.m. An Iranian contact writes us, "I checked 5 voting places in Tehran. In the first one which was in a school, a few people were voting and in the second place (metro station) I just saw about 5-10 people. In another place in a mosque I saw a short line of people...they went in and voted easily and were back and there was no long line.... In all the places that I saw, I did not see a long line or crowd of people."

Journalist Negar Mortazavi reports from an eyewitness in west Tehran: "Participation looks a bit less than the 7th and 8th parliamentary elections. This is only west Tehran. Northern Tehran was less and east Tehran was more. [Turnout for] the 6th Majles [elections] was 64%. The 7th and 8th were around 30%." Mortazavi also tweets, "They have announced that they will close schools tomorrow because the turn[out] was so high, they need to use these schools (polling stations) for counting votes tomorrow." And a Tehran resident tells her, "It's not important if people vote or not, it's important that even if they do, it's because of the stamp on their ID."

From a young man in Tehran:

I went to vote because I have never missed an election day since I was allowed to vote. This time I didn't want to vote and I convinced myself it was okay if I couldn't get myself to a polling station before work; that means I don't have to go against what I believe and vote for the people I despise. So anyhow, they brought over the polling station on wheels at work and I had to go and cast my vote. I stood there looking at the names and I didn't want to do it, but it was too late and I had the ballot.... Now I feel bad about voting.

The following picture was taken at 3 p.m. today outside a polling place in Mashhad.

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9:30 p.m. A Tehran contributor writes:

I visited the same polling station four times today and each time there were maybe ten to twenty people voting. The first time I walked in two Basij types were hanging out outside and I said, "Khalvatte" [It's deserted]. And the response was, "Az enghelab khaste shodan" [They are tired of revolution]. But more telling was the reaction of people who clearly did not bother to vote and mocked the whole thing.

And I think the regime has lost the hearts and minds of a majority of the population and it's just a question of time before it falls apart. When a very religious seyyed, aged 33, says to me that the Islam they are preaching is not Islam, you know they have lost their base.

One thing is for certain: things are going to get much worse (mostly economic) over the next six months and it could get really ugly if Israel does bomb, which would be a huge mistake because this regime is on its last legs, and one thing that would save it would be a military strike.

9:05 p.m. A blogger reacts to learning that Mohammad Khatami, who called for a boycott of the elections, voted today. The blogger uses a once-affectionate nickname for the former president: "Smiling Seyyed, now that you voted, take a look at this picture of Sohrab Arabi" -- a 19-year-old who was one of the people killed in the aftermath of the June 2009 election. The photo shows him in a mortuary, being washed before burial, according to Islamic teaching.

And here another Iranian writes to Tehran Bureau in reaction to the news:

"I believe that Khatami committed treason against the nation. He demonstrated that other than his own comfort, nothing is important to him. This is the man who had set three simple conditions for [legitimate] elections, and had said that without the three conditions materializing, there would be no possibility of participating in the election. When I first heard the news, I did not believe it. I thought that it was a rumor. Then his family confirmed it and a film was shown of him voting."

Three short reports from around Tehran, by residents of the capital:

"The voting is even worse than we thought. I am reporting from a neighborhood in southern Tehran. Our house is close to a polling station. In the June 2009 [presidential] election, the station was so crowded the entire day and there was always a long line of people waiting to vote. But today there is nothing of the sort. People come one by one and there is no crowd. Most people who do vote are old people and very religious women with chadors."

"It is very interesting. What I see now on TV is not what I saw in the polling station. My sister told me that the TV showed the wives of [assassinated nuclear scientists Professor Masoud] Ali Mohammad, [Majid] Shahriari, and [Mostafa] Ahmadi Roshan voting, and the man was telling people, 'Vote for their sake.'"

"Rafsanjani voted, but also said sarcastically, 'God willing, the result of the election will be what the people want.' This is so clear it needs no interpretation. He was pointing to Khamenei, saying, 'God willing, the result will be what the people voted for. God willing we will have a good Majles.' No one expected to see him voting, but, then again, no one expected him to actually confirm the fraud in the 2009 election [by making the statement]."

Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi takes a look at a couple of items in the Iranian media:

Mohammad Taghi Bagheri, head of election security for Tehran, said that ten terrorists have been arrested. According to Bagheri, "They entered Tehran province from outside Iran, and they are all in the detention center. He added, "Fifteen thousand security forces are watching the polling stations in Tehran."

At 11 a.m., long before the polling stations closed and a single vote was counted, Guardian Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei claimed that the number of voters has increased by 9 percent over the last Majles elections in 2008, for which the Interior Ministry claimed 57 percent participation. This fits nicely with the prediction of all the officials that 60-65 percent of the eligible voters will vote.

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8:30 p.m. From a Western journalist working in Tehran:

I have never been corralled like this. Ershad (the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance) issued 80 visas to foreign media, and we all agree this is the most tightly controlled we've ever seen it.

Apart from the fact that people are very much afraid to talk in public, we have been constantly monitored and harassed.

Every time we got out of a vehicle to shoot anything this week, even innocuous stuff like campaign posters, we were stopped within minutes by police or security and asked for our papers. We had them of course, but the parlay took up much valuable time.

This morning first thing we were bused to what we were told would be ten polling stations. It felt like a Potemkin tour. One in north Tehran, a couple in the south, one near the Armenian church, one where Jews would be voting, and so on. We needed to get away early to write a piece for morning show, and the Ershad people were very unhappy about that. They said we had to go back to the hotel only and that we weren't allowed to go to any other polling stations. Clearly they were afraid we'd see empty polling stations. I later heard from my colleagues that they were only taken to three.

One of my colleagues who has excellent contacts here and writes for a well-known U.S. publication came to write a piece about Iranian politicians. She can't get an interview with anyone, not even the less important MPs. There seems to have been a general gag order.

When I got back to the hotel tonight, there was a note under the door telling us that our authorizations to work here will expire on March 4 and that we should not overstay our permissions (even though my visa is good until the 5th!)

There was one telling little moment when we went to the corner where Neda died. The cops showed up right away, but after the usual palaver about how it was a sensitive spot, not part of our permissions, etc., the senior officer, a young man, said, "OK. I'm leaving now. I don't want you around here too long." His partner was outraged: "Make them leave now! They are spies!" But the young officer didn't, knowing full well we were going to shoot and do some pieces on camera. I think it was quite deliberate.

8:15 p.m. A first-hand report on today's voting from a Tehran resident:

I do not vote myself. In my entire life I voted twice. The first time for Khatami, and the second time for Mousavi. Both times I thought that I must do it because it will affect my own fate and those of others, and both times I was wrong. In Khatami's case, when the uprising at the dormitory [of the University of Tehran in July 1999] happened, and the unfortunate position that Khatami took, despite millions of votes, I realized that I had made a mistake. In 2009, I was hopeful for no reason. That is why I do not vote. But among my family members [none of whom voted] everyone has his/her own reason.

Among my colleagues no one wanted to vote. But some may vote anyway because they want to get administrative jobs and must pass certain filters. What I mean is that such people are not fooled that voting is a national and religious duty. They just want to have better jobs.

I called a friend this morning and asked her about "great" presence at the voting station. She said everyone was home and joked that her father was very eager to vote, which is why he was asleep until 10:30. I asked another friend. She said she would not vote, but her brother who is a member of the Basij voted. Even her parents who live in Tabriz [in northwest Iran] would not vote. But she believed that because they [the government and some right-wing ayatollahs] have said that it is a religious duty to vote, some may do so blindly.

I asked another friend who is from Gorgan [in northeast Iran]. Her two brothers fought in the Iran-Iraq War, and her family is very religious. They have made an idol out of the Supreme Leader and have cashed in on it...she says that it is a religious duty and must vote. The propaganda of Voice and Visage [the national TV and radio network] is totally one-sided and in small towns they do not receive the true news. After these conversations, I left home to see what was happening around Tehran.

I went from Tajrish [in north Tehran] to Hosseinieh Ershad [a few miles to the south]. I began at 11:00 a.m. and checked all the polling places on the route. There are two large mosques [used for voting], but nothing was going on. There is a Basij base next to the mosque in Gholhak [midway between Tajrish and Ershad], but I saw only a few plainclothes agents and two soldiers. I checked nine polling places, and all of them were deserted. Only Ershad was a bit crowded, but only because 10-15 people from Voice and Visage were there taping everything with cameras, along with some police officers. Some were voting.

I saw an old lady across the street from Ershad, who was also monitoring Ershad. We began chatting. She told me she had checked two schools in the neighborhood [used as polling places], but nothing was going on. She told the police who were guarding one of the schools, "Since no one is voting, you must force people to do so!" Even at the Basij buildings, where one could vote, nothing was going one. As usual...I saw several plainclothes agents, two soldiers, and several police officers.

In Tajrish, there is a polling station next to to Emamzadeh [Saleh, a religious shrine]. I saw two young men leaving. One of them said he voted for four people, one of whom was [Hassan] Ghafourifard [a former minister and academic], who is running from Shemiranat and whose campaign poster was there. Then I went to another mosque where the people from the Tajrish bazaar usually go. I saw one soldier at there door. A woman with chador and a young man went in to vote. This was 1:30 p.m.

I bought a box of dates from a guy who was selling them on the sidewalk. He asked for 2,000 tomans [roughly $1 according to the unofficial rate of exchange]. I told him, "This was 1,000 tomans." He said, "Yes, but it will go up soon." I responded, "Is that why you vote," and he said, "I did not and do not allow anyone that I know to vote." Tajrish was crowded as usual, but the polling stations were deserted. Altogether I checked 15 polling stations, and aside from Ershad, which I described, nothing was going on in the rest. This is despite the fear that people have that if their birth certificate is not stamped [indicating that they voted] and so "they did not do their religious duty," something bad may happen to them.

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7:30 p.m. The imprisoned journalist Mohammad Nourizad has asked fellow Iranians to join him in writing letters to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Here is one such open letter from a resident of Tehran addressing today's election:

Many people that have written about the truth and have questioned your decisions -- a right that they have under the constitution of Iran -- have been jailed, tortured, and even killed. But, I take the risk and write this letter to you because your decisions are placing millions of Iranians in danger of being killed, maimed, and contaminated by radioactive poisons, if our nuclear sites are bombed.

You have become a dictator who makes decisions on the behalf of 75,000,000 Iranians, and that is no different than when the Shah was in power. You make decisions about Iran and Iranians without sufficient and correct information about what is going on in the rest of the world. Because of your isolation and the warped intelligence that you get from your advisors, you have no idea how close Iran is to being attacked by military forces that are a thousand times more powerful that ours. You are the central reason that Iran is in this danger of going to war.

You have manipulated, interfered, and corrupted our election process to a point that Iranians have to be bribed or coerced to vote. When you steal their votes and they protest, you send thugs into the streets to beat them, jail them, torture them, and kill them. By doing so you have lost all legitimacy and if you had a shred of decency you would step down and initiate a referendum on Iran's political future.

Even those that used to support the Islamic Republic are no longer fooled by your so-called elections and will not vote. See here, here, and here.

The truth is that a vast majority of Iranians thirst for democracy, but you deny them the right. They want to have a say in how this country is governed, but you deny them this basic right. They want a good peaceful future, but you are creating a dark one.

The truth is that Iranians do not want a military confrontation with the West, but you are making such a confrontation more likely. For decades you have misinformed the Iranian people about our nuclear program and by doing so you have given the West an excuse to bomb us.

You have failed to inform the Iranian people about the dangers of nuclear energy and the cost and problems of the disposal of nuclear waste. You have ignored the reality of Chernobyl and Fukushima and instead invested vast amounts of badly needed funds into a nuclear technology that is decades out of date and will always be a source of danger.

Iran has the perfect geography and climate for the development of a solar energy industry, but you and your advisors have instead invested in a technology that places Iranians and our future generations in danger of genetic damage through accidents and possible military attack.

You and your inner circle know how badly you have mismanaged the country and what injustices you have inflicted on Iranians, to the point that you sent your son to meet with Mir Hossein Mousavi so as to plead for his help in solving the country's crisis. But the truth is that the only solutions to our problems are:

One: Free all the political prisoners.

Two: Recognize the rights of Iranians to freely express their thoughts, via the press, the internet, the voting booth, and peaceful demonstrations.

Three: Hold a referendum to give the people the choices of continuation of the Islamic Republic, or a democratic political system.

Four: End all nuclear activities until after a new government has been elected through free and fair elections, under the monitoring of international observers, and a referendum held to decide if our nuclear program should be continued.

Five: Allow privately owned radio and televisions stations, free press, and free political parties.

Six: End the political and business activities of the military.

Seven: Step aside.

These actions are essential to preventing war from taking place and for Iranians to start the process of creating a good future. You are in a position to implement these and to show the world that Iranians are peace-loving and do not want war or the destruction of its nuclear facilities and the resulting radioactive contamination.

Take these actions now or go down in history as the man that was responsible for a devastating war that resulted in the deaths of millions of Iranian women, children, and men.

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7 p.m. Tehran resident: "I didn't go to the polling station. The TV shows people waiting to vote. I was out between 2:10 p.m. and quarter to 3. I didn't see anything. The streets were empty and there was no traffic all the way to work. No crowds, but the TV tells a different story."

Contributor in London: "I'm hearing [turnout] is low and the atmosphere is apathetic, but then again it is always low in Tehran. I heard around the bazaar people were rather angry actually. I am hearing they [officials] are going to announce [a] 60 percent [turnout]. The Interior Ministry is extending the hours people can vote. They are trying to stretch it out as much as possible."

BBC Persian reports former presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami have voted.

6:50 p.m. An Iranian colleague of a member of an academic blog run by Professor Gary Sick of Columbia University offers some observations on today's vote:

The election process in Iran falls into a category that is best described by Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi. According to him, elections are only for the confirmation of those who have already been "divinely" chosen. Thus, the vetting of the candidates is really the selection of those most eligible to continue the status quo and the voting is a confirmation of the person's following.

From this prism, the nomination process for the Majles begins to make sense. A predefined set of nominees, that have been pre-vetted for "divine acceptance" is set on the proverbial block and the population at large signifies their preference for one or the other by acclamation. By predefining the pool of candidates, the possibility of major change in direction is null.

This type of election is not meant to be one of choice, nor is it meant to signify a change in policy or a shift in the direction of the body politic. It is, in a very classical Islamic sense, the selection of one elite over another elite within a constant social/political milieu. As such, this election model, is not even remotely comparable to the West where an election -- hypothetically -- is to determine the policy preference of the citizens.

Having said that, it is a fundamental education in the process of voting, a process which, as the body politic matures, will place more and more demands on the elite and thereby force change. It should be remembered that in Iran we are dealing with a social system that has functioned more or less successfully with this format for centuries, if not millennia. To expect a rapid change in such a system (and for social systems 100 years is rapid) is naive.

Voting and democracy are social changes on large scale, a fundamental shift in cultural patterns, not the simple mindless import of technology such as automobiles or pepsi cola! But given time, I think that the system could transform itself into a "democratic" system. What I fear is that the West, with its own sociopolitical problems, will screw up the works "divinely."

2:55 p.m. Ivan Watson, CNN reporter in Tehran: "This is the 1st election I've covered anywhere in the world where authorities ordered reporters on buses to cover vote." (via Twitter)

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1 p.m. Ayatollah Khamenei and others turn up to vote, including the young man above sporting a "God Bless America" T-shirt, seen in a photo taken today for the semiofficial Mehr News Agency.

Mehr is also reporting that former President Mohammad Khatami, who called for a boycott of elections unless they were "fair and free," also cast his vote today in a village called Vadan, which is in Gilavand close to Damavand, north of Tehran.

5:30 a.m. "Does it even matter if we vote or not? They will count millions of votes tomorrow."

Student | 21

One of our correspondents in Tehran asked various people if they were planning to vote. Here are some more of their responses:

"War hasn't broken out yet but the famine that comes with it is already upon us. Vote?"

Grandfather | 65

"Big factories that were here for at least two generations are closed and there are no jobs. Most of the people who lost their jobs after the factories were closed are struggling to make ends meet or have found a way to buy a car by borrowing money and working as taxi drivers. They want us to vote?"

Unemployed foreman/taxi driver | 35

"I make 250,000 rials a month. I have two kids at university. I pay 100,000 for rent and use the subsidy money to pay for utilities and the rest is for our expenses. The money I make is gone just like that when you have to buy everything at Tehran prices."

Technician | 50

"You know what they [candidates] do. They are buying votes but to make it legal they put the money between Qur'an pages and offer it to people at their [campaign] meets. [In Iranian tradition, money is placed inside the Qur'an and offered as blessed gifts, or tabarok.] Twenty thousand rials may not seem that much but it goes a long way when you have three kids and one on the way."

Unemployed laborer | 29

"Look at this hypocrisy: the Friday Prayers leader says avoid one-upmanship and excessive spending on campaigns and these [candidates] go and write their names on a piece of cardboard instead of printing flyers.... Of course, Haj Agha [the Friday Prayers leader] will convince his flock of sheep to vote for the pious candidate."

Teacher | 29

"We worked on our own land, farm animals produced everything for us, and we used to sell eggs in the city. Now the price of gas makes it impossible to go into the city to sell our eggs. We can't make a profit. If things continue like this, we might have to sell our land and this is the land that my whole family has lived on for generations."

Farmer | 39

"Look, we are not happy with the performance of the government...none of the people with values want a president who disrespects Agha [the Supreme Leader], and this will be a slap in the face for him [Ahmadinejad] when we vote and elect lawmakers who are on the path of Velaayat [rule by the Supreme Leader]. They will stop his [Ahmadinejad's] horsing around.... The important thing is to preserve this revolution that we won with the blood of our martyrs."

Prayer leader | unspecified age

"I have given my brother for this revolution.... We are the family of a martyr.... When Agha says the elections and our votes safeguard the Revolution...who am I to defy my master if he says he wants my life? I will give it without hesitation."

Housewife/female eulogist | 50ish

"This is our religious duty. It is the word of the Qur'an and His Prophet. We must do everything for this revolution. You would not understand what it was like during the Shah's era. This is what my religion tells me, so I will vote if Allah wills it."

Shop owner/mosque goer | 70ish

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5 a.m. Tehran Bureau columnist Muhammad Sahimi with more selections from the Iranian media -- this time, the opposition blogosphere:

In Shiraz, the opposition has distributed statements asking people not to vote. Campaign posters in Mashhad have been torn down by the opposition. See here, as well. A video clip produced in Tehran -- possibly by monarchists -- features young people declaring their intention to sit out the election. One says, "I voted in 2009, and won't vote again." Another says, "None of my friends will vote." A third one states, "I am getting my master's, but have no hope for the future. I will not vote."

The Persian-language blog Spotlight declares, "Do not forget, [those you may elect] are the same people who will shout 'Death to Mousavi' in the Majles," a reference to what happened on February 15 last year, the day after a large demonstration was held in Tehran at the urging of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. The Green Movement has actively sought ways to call on the people not to vote. This example declares: "We will not vote. Boycotting the elections is a patriotic duty."

University students are joining in the boycott efforts. A group of activists at Noshirvani University in the northern city of Babol have issued a statement, declaring that they will boycott the elections. The students ask, "The question is whether with the hope of achieving relative freedom, one can trust the political system [to deliver it]?" It answers the questions, No.

At the Shiraz campus of Islamic Azad University, students similarly declared that they will boycott the elections. It says that these elections, like those in the past, will be "engineered" -- meaning the participation figures and results have been fixed in advance.

417682_10150652031093841_83359068840_9137793_1970728413_n.jpg12:35 a.m., 12 Esfand/March 2 A Tehran Bureau correspondent notes the following:

Banners encouraging people to participate in Friday's elections now quote not the Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader, but officially denounced media outlets such as U.S.-government funded Radio Farda and Voice of America and even popular social media outlet Balatarin. A blue banner claims Radia Farda has warned that, "If participation in the elections is less than 50 percent, then the United State will attack Iran." Another banner supposedly quotes VOA: "It's wishful thinking to believe Iranians would not show up at the polls. Most Iranians make up their mind in the last week [before elections]." Balatarin is reported to say "Western countries will not attack Iran because they know the Iranian people believe in their regime and will participate in the elections." In short, "Vote, or Iran will be attacked."

11:30 p.m. More items from the Iranian media selected and translated by Tehran Bureau columnist Muhammad Sahimi:

Ali Mottahari, an influential MP who formed his own group (Sedda-ye Mellat, the Voice of the Nation), to run in the elections, is a strong critic of Ahmadinejad. He had a debate with hardline cleric Hamid Rasaei, who strongly supports Ahmadinejad and is himself a candidate of the JPEE (see below). During the debate, Mottahari revealed that on Saturday, June 20, 2009, the day after Ayatollah Khamenei's Friday Prayers speech in support of the re-election of Ahmadinejad, about 50 to 60 people were killed by the security forces, then added that the actual number was higher even though he intentionally mentioned the lower number. Rasaei actually defended the killings.

It is widely believed that Mojtaba Khamenei plays an important behind-the-scenes roles in Iran's power hierarchy. Now, another Mojtaba has entered the political arena: Mojtaba Mesbah Yazdi, a son of the reactionary Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi. As reported below, the elder Mesbah is the leader of the JPEE. In a campaign rally in eastern Tehran, the younger Mesbah declared that, "Opposing the JPEE is opposing the true noble Islam." Without mentioning Ahmadinejad, he declared that "people's vote in 2005 [the year Ahmadinejad was first elected the President] revived the [true] Islamic discourse." He continued, "the JPEE was formed so that the true flag of Islam is not carried by others," and that "the real reason for the opposition to the JPEE is the fear of a true Islamic discourse."

Websites supporting the JPEE have been blocked.

As reported previously by Tehran Bureau, several websites that support the JPEE and Ahmadinejad were blocked last week. In the latest round of filtering, two well-known websites, Ammarioun and Hemmat Negaar, have also been blocked.

9 p.m. More items from the Iranian media selected and translated by Tehran Bureau columnist Muhammad Sahimi:

As many as 600 Ahmadinejad supporters were reportedly disqualified by the Guardian Council from running in the elections. In reaction, a group of bloggers who support the president have said that they will not vote. One predicted that the elections will be "cold." Another one wrote in his blog, "Why should I vote in elections whose results are predetermined?"

Although Ahmadinejad is reported to be very angry with the disqualification of hundreds of his supporters, he is not without influence in the campaign. In addition to the JPEE, whose members have repeatedly said that they support him "minus Rahim Mashaei" -- Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, his chief of staff and close confidant, who has been blamed for the administration's various appeals to nationalism at the expense of Islamic identity -- a group called Jenheh Tohid va Edaalat (JTE, or Front of Monotheism and Justice) has issued a list of candidates for the Greater Tehran district that crosses over considerably with the JPEE list. In its statement announcing the list, the group rebuked those "who have criticized the government" since 2007, when Ahmadinejad was elected president. According to one analysis, the JTE slate is "Ahmadinejad's shadow list."

Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri, deputy chief of staff of the armed forces for cultural affairs and defense propaganda, appeared to side with the JPEE when he spoke out against those who had remained silent about the "sedition" -- the hardliners' epithet for the Green Movement -- and associated them with the "perverted group" -- Mashaei and his inner circle: "All those who took part in the leadership and management of the sedition of 2009, or encouraged those who supported it, or were silent about this great injustice done to the Revolution, or who had doubts about the counterrevolutionary nature of it are not qualified to represent the people in the Majles." He continued, "A criterion for a most qualified candidate is not only to not be part of the sedition and the perversion, but to not even be close to them."

Meanwhile, two prominent conservatives who oppose Ahmadinejad have cast doubt on the credibility of the so-called principlists. Mohsen Rezaei, secretary-general of the Expediency Discernment Council and former chief of the Revolutionary Guards, said that "the principlist faction is in its death throes and spending its last days, although the ideas of principlism are still alive, just as the reformists are no longer part of the political system, but reformist ideas are alive."

Even sharper criticism came from Seyyed Ahmad Alamhoda, the Friday Prayer Imam of Mashhad, who said, "People no longer trust the principlists." He added, "The Principlist current that existed before December 29 [2009, when hardliners staged counterdemonstrations after huge Green Movement protest rallies two days earlier] no longer exists since that day.... All the Hezbollah youth and the pious forces have lost hope and trust in the political groups."

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3:45 p.m., 11 Esfand/March 1 The following items from Iranian media sources were selected and translated by Tehran Bureau columnist Muhammad Sahimi:

The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has ordered newspapers and magazines to carry headlines that project "excitement for the elections." They have been threatened with fines and publication bans If they fail to do so. Reformists say their polls suggest voter turnout will be around 10 percent, while the ruling hardline factions have predicted that 60 percent of voters will participate.

Followers of the reactionary cleric Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi -- customarily referred to as Mesbah -- claim that he has launched an armaan garaa (idealists) group, represented in the Majles elections by the Jebheh Paaydaari-e Enghelab-e Eslami (JPEE, or Durable Front for the Islamic Revolution).

According to Hossein Allah Karam, the hardline head of the Coordination Council of the Hezbollah Forces, the JPEE represents the idealists, while Jebheh Mottahed-e Osoolgarayan (JMO, or United Front of Principlists) represents the principlists. He claimed that, from now on, the idealists and principlists will represent the two main political trends in Iran, and that the main competition in the Majles elections is between these two groups.

Hossein Talaa, another supporter of the JPEE and former governor-general of Tehran, claimed that the "JPEE is the revolutionary idealism that the Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini] wanted." Talaa, who fought in the Iran-Iraq War and was a senior political official in the Sarallah Garrison in Tehran, said the "sedition" -- the Green Movement -- began in July 1999 when there was an uprising by University of Tehran students that shook the foundation of the Islamic Republic, and that the 2009 movement was merely its continuation.

Cleric Mohammad Naser Saghaye Biria, a disciple of Mesbah, said that "after forty years of silence," Mesbah has decided to line up his many students and disciples to begin a new movement. Saghaye Biria, who lived in Canada and the United States from 1991 to 2005, said that the JPEE was founded for much deeper reasons than campaigning for the Majles. Many believe that the JPEE is laying a foundation for the 2013 presidential election.

Mesbah himself, who has denied that he is the JPEE's spiritual leader, said on Wednesday, "I prefer the JPEE over other political groups, and have no criticism of its list [of candidates]." The JPEE has held several campaign rallies around Tehran in which Mesbah's name has been invoked prominently.

11:25 p.m., 10 Esfand/February 29 In this video, as translated by Ali Alfoneh of AEI, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei urges Iranians to turn up to vote:

On Friday's election day, thanks to divine benevolence, the Iranian nation will give a slap harder than the previous ones in the face of [Global] Arrogance [i.e., the United States] and will show its decisiveness to the enemy so that the front of Arrogance understands that it can't do anything when confronting this nation.... All over the world, an enthusiastic election is the symbol of the nation being alive and [a symbol of] their will. Therefore, in any country in which there is vast popular participation in the election, it is a sign of their vigilance and their harmony with the regime.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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