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North Shore Persians react to Iran’s surprise election results

Despite a ‘progressive’ win, Iranian Canadians are deeply cynical about results
Protesters gathered at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Saturday, September 16, 2023, to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Women, Life, Freedom movement in Iran. | Hamid Jafari / North Shore News

Members of the Persian community on the North Shore are greeting Iran’s surprise election results with a tepid response.

The new president of the Islamic Republic, Masoud Pezeshkian, won against hard-liner Saeed Jalili after his conservative predecessor, Ebrahim Raisi, was killed in a helicopter crash in May.

In the first round of Iran’s presidential election, only 40 per cent of the country’s 61 million eligible voters participated, marking the lowest turnout since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Following the poor showing, Islamic Republic Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged voters to participate in the runoff.

North Vancouver resident Mehdi Ghadimi, a former Iranian journalist who worked for years covering Iran’s politics, said he’s seen Pezeshkian at work.

“Amid political tension, he was always close to the power,” he said. “The regime has realized that they cannot afford to take risks, even among different players within the regime. They are focused on decreasing tension within the power structure and controlling the current situation in Iran’s society.”

The 2022-23 Women, Life, Freedom movement presented the greatest challenge to the Islamic Republic since its inception 45 years ago. There were 22,000 arrests, and at least 537 people were killed in the regime’s crackdown. The movement began following the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested in Tehran by the morality police – a dedicated unit that enforces strict dress codes for women – on Sept. 16, 2022.

The election cannot be separated from Khamenei’s succession, Ghadimi said.

‘They wanted to maintain stability within the power and society while Khamenei is in power. After him, Pezeshkian would be a negotiable candidate for the main players to choose Khamenei’s successor,’ he added.

Ghadimi added that the opposition could, for the first time, unite 60 per cent of the 61 million eligible voters.

“It can be considered an accomplishment for the opposition, and this fact can empower them to negotiate with governments worldwide,” he said.

Maryam Shariatmadari, a women’s rights activist, shared her own take in the cynicism of Iranian politics.

“I don’t want to use the term ‘election’. It’s more of an appointment process by the Supreme Leader. Since 2009, after the people’s uprising in the Iranian Green Movement, where they said, ‘Where is my vote?,’ people believe that their votes are not being counted. The Islamic Republic wants to establish international legitimacy for itself, especially after the protests in 2022-2023.”

Shariatmadari was one of the “Girls of Enghelab Street” protesting against mandatory hijab for women in Iran. In 2018, she stood without a hijab on a pillar in Tehran’s Enghelab Street, holding up a white scarf in protest.

The Islamic Republic’s judiciary charged Shariatmadari with “encouraging corruption by discarding her hijab in public,” and sentenced her to one year in prison.

The Canadian federal government did not allow the Islamic Republic regime to set up polling stations in Canada for the election. Recently, Canada officially designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist group.

Unlike Canada, the US allowed the regime to hold votes on US soil. However, the US says Iran’s presidential election was “not free or fair” and won’t “lead to a fundamental change in Iran’s direction.”

According to the Islamic Republic authorities, 136 ballot boxes were established worldwide, but only 88,325 people participated in the presidential runoff election.

Some Iranian social media users rejecting the election have dubbed it “a circus” online, believing that participating would give credit to the regime trying to present itself as legitimate.

Mir Hossein Mousavi, leader of Iran’s Green Movement, and his wife Zahra Rahnavard boycotted the country’s presidential election. The couple have been under house arrest since 2011.

Shariatmadari said that people in Iran know the current political situation and do not expect a resolution with Pezeshkian.

“They used the term ‘circus’ because a circus performance is amusing to the audience. Looking at everything in detail, we can see it as a circus instead of an election,” she said.

Hamid Jafari is a Vancouver-based freelance journalist who writes about the Iranian community in Canada, art, culture, and social media trends. His work for the North Shore News is supported by New Canadian Media. [email protected]