Cartoon by Amjad Rasmi

Despondent Iranian Kurds skip parliamentary elections

Rudaw: SANANDAJ, Iran – Small polling station crowds in the city of Sanandaj in western Iran’s Kurdistan province this morning were a bleak early indicator for the regime in Tehran which has urged the public to vote in Friday's parliamentary elections.

Polling stations in Sanandaj’s Shalman neighborhood were near empty of both voters and security force members. No one was allowed to take any photographs to document the scene.

It took each voter a few minutes to enter the polling station, cast their vote, and leave. I saw a middle aged man, Ahmed Khani, and his wife, dressed in a black chador (cloak and scarf), coming out of the polling station.

Ahmed spoke to Rudaw English in the Kalhuri dialect of Kurdish language, spoken in the Kermanshah and Qorveh parts of Kurdistan province. He described participation in the election as a national duty. He said he came to the polls in response to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s call to vote to honor the death of Qasem Soleimani, an Iranian general killed in Baghdad by a US drone strike last month.

The emptiness of the polling station, Ahmed explains, is because the area is home to wealthy people who do not vote. However, he held out hope that the people of Kurdistan province would perform their national duty and ignore enemy propaganda calling for a vote boycott.

Amid political repression, a debilitating economic situation, and a purge of election candidates that severely limited voter choice, activists both in and outside of the country called for Iranians not to turn up to the vote.

Iranian authorities scrambled to combat the threat of a low turnout, urging voters to come out and perform their civic obligation. They extended voting hours for a total of five hours due to a "rush of voters" to polling stations, Reuters quoted state television as saying.

Abdullah, 38, is a taxi driver in Shalman. Taxi driving is his side job – he also works at the city’s heritage office, but says he has not received his salary in six months.

He expressed a deep despondency about Iran’s political future, saying that whoever becomes a member of parliament thinks only about lining their pockets.

The boycott is going strong, Abdullah says, despite attempts to counter it. He told Rudaw English he was being threatened by his heritage office boss to vote, or else face repercussions. He says he will nevertheless persist in his participation in the boycott.

“People are all fed up, barely making ends meet. In the last few years, each [official] visiting the area has promised to improve their conditions – but nothing has changed,” Abdullah said.

Sudaba, 50, lives in the poor neighborhood of Naysar, and works as a servant for an elderly woman. She told Rudaw English she is fed up of life and no longer believes anyone.

“My husband is sick. We have four children and we live in a rental house. Our monthly income is $40. The candidates wanted to deceive us by offering us cooking oil, ignorant of the fact that we have many issues and sufferings, and that this will not work to relieve us,” she told Rudaw English.

Most of those who go to polls do so to get rations of cooking oil or rice, fearing that their failure to attend will result in their rations being revoked, Subada said.

Kurdistan province, one of the poorest in Iran, saw some of the deadliest crackdown by security forces when nationwide protests began after an overnight tripling of the price of fuel in November of last year. Estimates for the number of people killed in their short run range from 500 to as many as 1,500.

Poorer, more populated neighborhoods have historically seen a larger voter turnout, but today, the Kani Kuzala and 25 areas of Sanandaj were not as busy as I had expected they would be.

Zhila, 25, is a recent university graduate. She explained to Rudaw English from a pooling station that election turnout is higher in poorer and rural areas – where many of the candidates in this election call home.

“I have come here only to get my jinsiya (residency card) stamped, to avoid potential issues in the future,” she told Rudaw English at a polling station.
“However, I do know that our lives won’t change, and youth unemployment and poverty will continue, no matter who is elected.”

The most crowded place I encountered was Jame’I mosque, in downtown Sanandaj. Even so, it was not as crowded as during the last election. It is also likely that those crowds were because it was Friday, when weekly congregational prayers take place.

Activists from the Kurdistan province cities of Mariwan and Diwandara told Rudaw English election turnout there was also low; others, from the cities of Saqqez and Baneh, said attendance in their cities was higher.