14 Jun 2013

Eyes of the world on Iran as polls open

It’s a smoggy blazing morning here in Tehran, and the polls are open. And so they vote.

A persistent, regular four-yearly determination, in part to remind both the people and the outside world that somehow, some way, there is a democracy in play in Tehran. I might add that local elections here are also regular and hotly contested.

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So will they vote? Some who were disappointed last time have said they won’t vote this time because of what they saw as a fix last time. But yesterday Iran’s supreme Leader, Ayatollah al-Khamenei, has urged everyone to vote, even if they don’t believe in the Islamic republic.

The turnout matters massively for the credibility of the poll and its result. So in my little guide to this amazing process, watch the turnout figure. Over 70 per cent will be a good result. Few expect last time’s claimed 85 per cent to be repeated.

And so they vote. I have talked to some who were supportive of radical change last time round who say they have decided, after all, that this time they will vote because the campaign has somehow thrown up a choice for them.

More from Channel 4 News: Iran elections – the candidates

If you are an artist, you will know what the complementary colour to purple is. Purple is the colour of the one relatively modest “reformist” on today’s presidential candidates’ slate.

He’s a cleric – Dr Hassan Rouhani. He was the vice-president under President Khatami, Iran’s last “reformist” president. Khatami was never properly engaged by the west, and consequently brought little significant change.

Rouhani is regarded as less of a reformer than him. But he does have the experience of having been a nuclear negotiator – and is respected for the way he did the job.

He has attracted a rainbow of support behind him, including many of those who continue to protest at the continued imprisonment of reformist activists last time and the violence that followed the last presidential vote.

Read more from Jon Snow in Iran

Although security has been tight this time, and vigilance evident on the streets, the campaign has been low-key and the atmosphere is calmer.

The presidential slate is down to six, and only two of the five conservatives running are being regarded very seriously as potential winners.

Saeed Jalili is the current nuclear negotiator who embraces strong conservative credentials on all fronts. He is by some said to be the supreme leader’s choice. Recently he has complained that Iran’s state broadcaster has not covered his campaign properly.

It was at his final rally that I spotted Hezbollah flags fly proudly near the stage. He’s likely to garner the most committed conservative votes.

Finally there is the intriguing mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf. He’s made a huge impact as mayor of Tehran, transforming the city’s streets with the most enormous tree-planting exercise I’ve ever seen in a developed city.

Tehran, once grey and concrete-strewn, is now criss-crossed in green with small, beautifully kept parks on every spare piece of ground.

He’s dug a six -kilometre tunnel that has transformed north/south access to the city and built double-deckered flyovers to alleviate the traffic.

Mind you, transiting Tehran still remains a major exercise. He’s also developing the new metro as vast as it can be built. So he’s a technocrat who also understands economics. But on all other matters – foreign, religious, and historic – Mr Qalibaf is deeply conservative.

This presidential candidates’ “slate” may be hand-picked by the governing council of clerics, but it does represent a choice. Many expect a second round.

Interrupted internet, phone, and TV signals for no particularly obvious reason, challenges by assorted law enforcement as to whether authorities are right to permit external coverage of this election – all these things increase the mental conjuring that goes on in one’s head when you spend time in this beautiful, complex country. They are all in play here.

But my observation of assorted contests over time leads me to suppose that the conservative vote is split more than the “reformist”. If the turnout is high, the purple option has a chance of an outright win. But anything could happen.

Stay tuned! It’s an honour to be the only British journalist here. We shall do our best to keep you posted.

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