Voting is underway in Iran's elections - but many are still uncertain whether or not to vote. Conservatives and reformists are competing for support, and as Theresa Tropper reports from Tehran, there's a lot at stake.
Women in chadors, Shiite clerics, and young men in suits. Their serious faces feature on the campaign posters stuck to the lampposts and walls of buildings that line Vanak Square in central Tehran. So close to the election, all of the city's squares are equally plastered with messages from the candidates.
Conservatives and reformists alike are not just competing for support, they're also urging Iranians to come out and participate in the election. "The country depends on your vote," said a text message from President Rouhani that was sent to every mobile phone owner in Iran. "On Friday, we will shape a hopeful future for our country, together."
There's a lot at stake. The current parliament has a majority of conservatives and hardliners. And while they may have supported the president's foreign policy course of moderation, when it comes to domestic policy, many are skeptical, or outright dismissive, of Rouhani's aims.
After the successful nuclear deal and the lifting of sanctions, they are making an extra effort to ensure that the moderation so noticeable in Iran's foreign policy does not carry over at home. In the current parliament, attempts at easing the dress code for women, or stopping the censorship of social media would be doomed to failure.
More support for the president?
That could change after Friday's election. "I'm convinced that the people will elect a parliament that is more in line with the president," Hossein Kanani Moghadam of the Green Party told DW. Up until now, Rouhani has mainly been focused on foreign policy. "Now that he's been successful, he can apply himself to other things and a new parliament could support him in that."
It's no surprise that, in the run up to the election, Rouhani was committed to ensuring that there were plenty of reform-minded candidates in the race - even appealing to the powerful Guardian Council. According to Iran's constitution, it decides on the candidates' suitability. Of more than 12,000 applicants, it disqualified more than half - including many from the opposition, who were said to not have enough in common with the Islamic republic's constitution.
Rouhani publicly warned the conservative council to at least partly revise its decision, saying the people should not have the impression that the election results were a foregone conclusion.
To vote or not to vote
But it's an impression that nonetheless prevails among many opposition supporters - even though the Council changed its ruling on the disqualification of 1,500 candidates.
"We can't vote for the candidates and the ideas that we really support," said Ali, thoughtfully stroking his beard. "So you can't say that these elections are free and fair." The 63-year-old and his friends are drinking tea in a park while they debate whether they should vote or not. "I think we should cast our votes," his friend Hamid said. An imperfect election is better than no election at all.
Representatives for the reformists see it the same way. "A truly fair election can only take place when everyone who wants to run is allowed to run," said candidate Alireza Mahjoub. But many feel that the fact that there is an official list with a total of 30 reform candidates represents a major step forward.
"Last time, there were only two." He says a boycott would not be helpful. "That will only help the conservatives," he said. They have a large base of supporters who will definitely show up to vote. "For us reformists, the motto is: The greater the voter turnout, the better."
Assembly of Experts: More important than parliament
That's more relevant than ever, since this time, it's not just parliament that is up for election, but also the so-called Assemby of Experts. "And this election is even more important than the parliamentary election," said Seyed Reza Mousavinia of the Faculty for Political Science at the University of Tehran.
The assembly, composed of high-ranking Shiite clerics, is responsible for monitoring the Supreme Leader, and choosing a new one in the event of the death of the incumbent, Ayatollah Khamenei. He is now 76 years old, and even said once himself that it was unlikely he would survive the eight-year term. With the choice of his successor, the members of the Assembly of Experts would be setting the course for the country's political future over a period of decades.
The stirrings of hope can be felt on the streets of the capital - hope for change that will affect the daily lives of Iranians. "Rouhani's election changed things for the better here in Iran," Ali and Hamid agree. "This election will also change a lot of things." The extent of that change will be decided when Iranians cast their ballots this Friday.