D.C. Polls Saw High Turnout as Inspired Iranians Vote for Their Country's LeaderInspired or ‘Fed Up,' Iranians Turnout at D.C. Polls to Vote for a Leader

After a hotly contested election pitting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against leading challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi, the government declared Ahmadinejad the winner on June 13. Mousavi's supporters took to the streets to protest the results, and were met with harsh security crackdowns.
By Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 13, 2009

Thirty years after the revolution that sent many of their families fleeing to a new life in the West, local Iranians streamed to Wisconsin Avenue yesterday, hoping to make a difference in a hotly contested election half a world away.

They came singly or in groups to the second-floor office where the Iranian government maintains an interests section for citizens in the absence of an embassy. Women stopped to pull headscarves over their hair and long-sleeved shirts over their tank tops before entering.

Some said they were voting in an Iranian election for the first time, and most said they fiercely wanted a change from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

For many, simply not being him was enough to recommend a candidate.

"I want my president not to be Ahmadinejad," said Hossein Radmard, 26, one of a group of students who had driven three hours from Morgantown, W.Va. "He doesn't represent what Iranians are and what Iran should be."

"We are so fed up with Ahmadinejad's policy and his fanaticism and fascism," said Azadeh Julia Tassavoli, 31, a graduate student who lives in Reston. "We're not expecting Iran to become a democratic country overnight, but change has to come from somewhere."

By mid-afternoon, the interests section reported that more than 500 people had come in, triple the number in previous elections. Forty-one sites were set up across the country, including in Potomac, Manassas and Tysons Corner. About 30,000 Iranians live in the Washington region.

In Iran, both leading candidates were declaring victory.

Most interviewed here said they were voting for Mir Hossein Mousavi or Mehdi Karroubi, the two candidates considered more liberal and a rebuke to Ahmadinejad's presidency.

Iranians inside and outside Iran are heavy Web users, and this election saw an explosion of "get out the vote" campaigns online. Some voters also said they were inspired by the energy of the U.S. presidential election in November.

"A few of us in the D.C. area, we volunteered with the Obama campaign, so we got a lot of ideas from that," said Negar Mortazavi, 27, a Falls Church resident who helped organize a Web site called Setadema, with telephone campaigns and YouTube videos encouraging Iranians worldwide to vote.

Iranians voting here had wish lists that echoed many of their compatriots' back home, including a more democratic system and more social rights, and some criticized the deep economic morass Iran has sunk into under current leadership.

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