On the eve of the ballot, the question that many Iranians are weighing is whether they should vote this time.
“Some of my friends are saying that if we don’t believe in the system, then we shouldn’t vote,” said Shabnam, a 30-year-old accountant. “But when I look at Saeed Jalili and compare his views with other candidates, I see a big difference between him and Hassan Rouhani.”
Like others interviewed, Shabnam declined to give her last name for fear of reprisals.
In the final televised debate, last Friday, Jalili, Iran’s nuclear negotiator and the candidate widely seen as the most ideologically hard-line, said women’s place in Iranian society should be at home as mothers, at schools as teachers or at the mosque.
Rouhani, the only cleric in the race and the most moderate of the six remaining contenders, meanwhile, promised to include a new Ministry of Women in his government if elected. Two of the eight candidates approved dropped out Tuesday.
Elsewhere in Iran, similar conversations were taking place Thursday.
“Fewer of my students will vote this year because of what happened in 2009, but from what I see, there is a lot of support for Rouhani among young people,” said Karim, a professor of engineering in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city, speaking by phone.
The country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, made a last-minute appeal to Iranians on Wednesday to go to the polls. “Public presence is the most important thing for this country, so even those who simply love Iran must be present in the election,” he said.
On Thursday, the Basij, a state-funded paramilitary organization that is often used to provide extra security at times of internal unrest, also urged people to vote.
“It is essential that a majority of voters turn out, which will increase our national stability and negotiating possibilities in the international field, and each vote is a reconfirmation of the Islamic Republic,” it said in a statement.
For several reasons, some analysts say, turnout could be higher than anticipated.
Many urban and educated Iranians who might not otherwise have voted appear inclined to go to the polls now that the reformist Rouhani is seen as having a real chance of winning. His prospects improved when Jalili, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and Ali Akbar Velayati, a former foreign minister and a Johns Hopkins-trained pediatrician, stayed in the race, threatening to split the conservative vote.
Also, for the first time, local council elections are being held on the same day as the presidential vote. In rural areas, those are considered especially important and always attract high participation.
Finally, there are the growing, though unfounded, rumors that people who do not vote will stop receiving direct cash deposits from the government each month.
Of the six candidates, most observers agree that Rouhani and two of the conservatives, Jalili and Ghalibaf, have the best chances of winning.
To claim victory, a candidate needs to secure a clear majority of votes. If no one does, a runoff between the two highest vote-getters will be held next Friday.