Iranians in London Didn't Know Whether to Vote at All

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LONDON - The presidential elections in Iran just ended (after four hours were added to the voting time) and now the counting is underway. At one polling station, at least, it seems that the relatively moderate candidate, Hasan Rowhani, enjoys a comfortable majority. Not that the Iranian community in London is a representative sample of the views back home in Iran. Many of the Iranian citizens arriving to vote here at the Omani consulate (for two years, there have been no diplomatic relations between Iran and Britain following the storming of the embassy in Tehran in 2011) were wearing purple clothes, the unofficial color of opposition to the regime and after voting, and they remained outside drinking bottles of beer in a sort of protest against the Islamists.

Toward the evening, more voters flowed to the small side-street in Kensington, a stones-throw from the Israeli embassy. The voting took place under heavy police security, though there were no disturbances of the piece, aside from a small demonstration by Iranian communists. "I think there may have been one woman inside who was voting for [Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher] Qalibaf," said one student while laughing. He voted for Rowhani and said that "it was pretty clear that almost everyone was voting for Rowhani." But not everyone was voting. Among the Iranians there, most of them in their twenties, lingering in the street and enjoying the rays of rare London sun, were many who said they had come only to meet their friends but not to vote.

Ali, a management student who has lived in London for four years (all the interviewees asked to use their first names only for fear of retribution to their families in Iran), said that "I don't think anyone can actually vote consciously when all the real information on the elections and the candidates is being hidden by the regime. There is no free media in Iran and people are afraid to talk in the streets and on the phone, how can you vote like this? I tried today to call my friends in Iran and see whether I should vote but the lines were blocked since this morning." Aki, who arrived with a purple ribbon on his shirt, said that "there is no trust that the vote will change anything. I don’t even know if they will count our votes. They already know the result they want and won't let the people change that."

Also the fact that the real reformist candidates were disqualified from running in the elections caused many to boycott the vote. "Iranians have memories of goldfish," said Ashkan. "They talk of Rowhani as if he was a moderate but forget that four years ago who spoke out against the students' demonstrations." The memory of the 2009 protests and their violent repression by the regime is still fresh in the memory of many of them. Ramsi says that he thought long and hard whether to vote and finally decided to go into the consulate and cast his vote. "Four years ago I went to vote for Mehdi Karroubi and believed we could bring change, but they stole the elections and allowed [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad to remain in power. Now we don't have much hope for change but I love my country and think that not voting is irresponsible."

Golshade, a computers student said that she also wasn't sure whether to vote but finally decided to do so. "There wasn't a real boycott campaign that I could support and since they won't count those not voting, it would have been an empty protest no one will hear. I voted for Rowhani without any enthusiasm. In 2009, the choice was between bad and worse, because Karroubi and Mousavi were not liberals in any way. Now the choice is between worse and much worse, and you still have to vote for whomever is less bad and hope for the best." Golshade came to the consulate with a scarf but decided at the last moment to vote with her hair uncovered and urged other women to do the same. "I saw that they were allowing women to vote however they wanted, without scarves or veils," she said. "We don’t wear scarves or cover ourselves here in London. People should know there is another Iran and that we don't have to feel oppressed."

Adib, a student living in London for three years said he also reluctantly voted for Rowhani said that "I hope he will at least tone down the tensions between Iran and the West. The current situation is very bad and harming Iran's economy in ways that particularly make things hard for students living abroad. The Riyal (Iran's currency) has lost most of its worth and my parents can't send me money from Iran. I don't support the regime but the economic sanctions hurt me directly."  

Iranian nationals queue to vote in the Iran presidential election at the Iranian Consulate in London, Friday, June 14, 2013.Credit: AP

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