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Iran Presidential Poll: Advocates Of Blank Votes And Boycott At Loggerheads

Some Iranian activists with reformist affiliations are suggesting casting blank ballot papers in the controversial June 18 presidential elections as a protest over the watchdog Guardian Council not including their favored candidates. Others favoring an election boycott have called this treason, as more ballots cast would be used by the Islamic Republic to claim large voter turnout and therefore be used to bring legitimacy in the tightly managed elections.

Even if 10 million people cast blank ballots, the state can issue different results in a process not independently supervised or monitored, opponents of blank votes say.

Prominent reformist politician and journalist Abbas Abdi tweeted Thursday that "individual, non-partisan citizens" were trying to create a "protest vote" movement to "alter" the election results. Abdi advised reformists not to get involved.

The Reforms Front, involving several reformist groups and in which former president Mohammad Khatami is a leading figure, has said it will not support any candidate. Refusing to call for a boycott, the Front calls their approach "passive participation." Former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was not passed to stand as a candidate, has also said he will not vote or endorse anyone.

Blank votes, argue advocates, would show voter dissatisfaction, especially with the Guardian Council's vetting of candidates. Casting blank ballot papers might also appeal to some, including those in government employment, concerned about any adverse consequences of not going to vote.

"I'm thinking of blank/void ballots now to protest to engineering of the elections and to preserve the institution of elections," expatriate reformist activist Hamzeh Ghalebi tweeted on May 27. One comment on the tweet disagreed, suggesting Iranians should follow the “consensus” reached among reformists “on non-participation” and suggesting anything “other than a decision reached by consensus is obstinacy even if we do not agree…”

Supporters of “regime change” who started a boycott campaign on social media months ago have attacked the idea of casting blank ballots. "We say that's filthy treason," one tweeted on May 30, a comment liked by 1,100 and retweeted over 200 times.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei strongly defended the Guardian Council a few days after it announced the names of seven approved candidates including five principlists, the former central bank governor Abdolnasser Hemmati, and former Khatami vice-president Mohsen Mehralizadeh. A poll by the government-affiliated Iranian Students Polling Agency (ISPA), published Wednesday and taken May 30 – June 1, found 34 percent saying they would definitely vote and 8 percent very likely to vote. If this estimate holds, the 2021 presidential poll would present the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s 42-year history.

The poll was conducted face-to-face nationwide with a sample of 5,159. Thirty-two percent said they would definitely not vote, 16 percent said they had not decided, while 9 percent said they were unlikely to vote and 5 percent did not answer the question.

The lowest ever turnout in a presidential election was 51 percent in 1993 when Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani won his second term in office. The highest turnout, in 2009, saw Ahmadinejad win a second term with a disputed 62 percent. Turnout in the past two presidential elections, won by Hassan Rouhani, was above 70 percent.

A British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National and journalist at Iran International
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