Many Iranians, battered by economic sanctions, political turmoil and the lingering threat of military conflict, say they are in no mood to vote in general elections this week.
Speaking of heavy hearts and a sense of bitterness, Tehranis complain they are tired of politicians who have failed to keep their word or to raise living standards.
“No way! There’s no way we are going to vote!” 62-year-old Pari said under the gaze of her daughter who also intends to boycott the parliamentary polls Friday because she no longer trusts politicians.
“It’s difficult for everyone in Iran nowadays. We’re fed up. We want to send a message that we’re not satisfied with the situation,” the mother added.
President Hassan Rouhani, re-elected in 2017, promised more social and individual freedoms and gave assurances that Iranians would be able to benefit from the fruits of engagement with the West.
But many people feel their lives have been crippled by the economic slump and exacerbated by harsh US sanctions since US President Donald Trump in 2018 pulled out of a landmark nuclear deal with Iran.
Added to this has been the threat of military conflict as Trump has ramped up a campaign of “maximum pressure” against the Islamic republic.
Pari and her daughter Kiana were strolling through Tajrish, one of the capital’s most exclusive neighbourhoods where displays of wealth contrast sharply with extreme poverty.
Elegant women in dark glasses steered their SUVs through streets lined with roadside vendors who displayed their wares on the grimy pavement.
A shoeshine boy sitting on the curb of the icy sidewalk was narrowly missed by a motorcycle online food delivery rider speeding the wrong way up a traffic-choked street.
“There’s no work, no future,” said Kiana, her jet-black hair falling out from under her headscarf.
Above all, she aid, she no longer “trusts the authorities” and is dismayed by their “lack of honesty”.
The credibility of Iran’s leaders took a hit among many when authorities denied last month that Iranian armed forces had mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian airliner before they came clean days later.
– Crippled lives –
At Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, beyond the stunning turquoise-blue mosaic entrance, hundreds of people scrambled into the historic market, a labyrinth of alleys and shops underneath stone vaulted ceilings.
Browsing for brass dishware, linen bedding, refined carpets and clothes, shoppers elbowed their way through the crowd.
Standing at the entrance was Amir Mohtasham, a 38-year-old who has been jobless for two years and who said he worries about the lack of vision of those candidates allowed to stand for elections.
“It seems none of the candidates has a plan for anything,” he said.
“Neither the conservatives nor the reformists are trustworthy. They only care about votes… Our elections are useless.”
A short distance away, a 30-year-old carpet merchant, though much better off, voiced similar views.
“We voted for Rouhani with a dream, but we didn’t achieve anything,” Mohammad said, accusing the authorities of spreading “lies”.
“People no longer have peace of mind,” he said. “When the people aren’t the ones who decide, why should we vote? If voting is legitimising, then we won’t vote.”
Other people from conservative or religious backgrounds however said they were determined to take part in the election.
“I will certainly vote, but I need to think about for whom,” said Hassan Ghole, 55, a bazaar salesman.
“Our parliamentarians are all trying to do their best but how much they can actually succeed, nobody knows,” he said, expressing hope that future lawmakers would work “to solve the problems of youths”.
– ‘Voice our protest’ –
In Tehran’s poorer southern district of Nazi Abad, a housewife wearing a chador also said she would dutifully cast her ballot.
“From the point of view of our religion, it’s important to go and vote, especially as our country is surrounded by enemies,” she said.
“The most important thing for us is to have faith in life and then the economy will be good.”
But in the same neighbourhood, youths spoke of their thirst for more freedom in the Islamic republic, which marked its 41st anniversary this month.
“Elections have just become symbolic… I don’t support this system and won’t vote,” 20-year-old Kamran Baluchzadeh said, in a rare show of dissent.
“I feel hopeless and weak, and I’m even not 25 years old,” he said, shivering in below-freezing temperatures.
“I feel desperate,” he added, citing expenses he can’t pay, worries about being unable to find a wife and taking care of his parents.
Bags of clothing and a telephone in hand, Pari Aghazadeh is a fashion designer who does not go unnoticed with her slender figure, redone nose, false nails and thick coat of lipstick.
“I honestly don’t want to vote, because it won’t fix our problems,” she said, accusing the government of mismanagement.
“This government, this system doesn’t care at all about women. We don’t have any personal freedoms,” she said.
At least by boycotting the vote, she said, “we can voice our protest”.