Saturday, June 11, 2005

Iran's dual governing system breeds voter apathy

A dizzying array of campaign posters across this sprawling city promises Iranian voters a brighter, freer future in the most contested presidential race in Islamic Republic history.

But it's unlikely that any of the eight candidates vying in June 17 elections to replace President Mohammad Khatami, who can't run for a third term, will win the kind of victory that swept Khatami to office in 1997 and 2001 with hopes of political and social change.

Voter apathy is threatening to deliver a low turnout, and recent polls indicate that none of the candidates, which include clerics, generals, a doctor and Tehran's mayor, is likely to garner the 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off.

It's not the candidates who are the problem, said Azadeh Shakibah, a 24-year-old university student in Tehran's upper-middle-class Tajrish neighborhood. It's that she and many others in this nation of 70 million feel that voting no longer makes a difference in Iran's dual system of government, in which un-elected clerics can veto whatever elected leaders do.

"Nearly 27 years we've had them thinking that people are like sheep," Shakibah chided. "No more."

A survey by the Iranian Students Opinion Poll Center published Thursday in the Iran Daily newspaper found that the front-runner, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, is favored by barely 28 percent of the respondents. The heir to the Khatami reformist legacy, former Cabinet Minister Mostafa Moin, trailed with less than 11 percent, according to the poll of 4,738 eligible Iranian voters in Tehran and 10 provincial capitals.

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