During the past weeks, Iran's state-controlled media has been dominated by the presidential candidates making their case for occupying the country's ceremonial role of president and trying to paint a democratic picture of a tyrannical regime. What it's not reflecting, however, is what the people of Iran really think of the elections and why they categorically reject the ruling regime and all its presidential nominees.
During Friday's live televised debate, the candidates themselves gave reason as to why there's no real choice in Iran's presidential elections. In an effort to secure their bid and highlight their opponents' failures, the nominees effectively admitted that they're all deeply involved in the Islamic Republic's four decades of suppressing the Iranian people and plundering the country's riches.
Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and Ebrahim Raisi, who are widely known as the main competitors to the incumbent Hassan Rouhani, blasted Rouhani by emphasizing his failure in dealing with the country's economic woes.
In retaliation, Rouhani and his deputy, Eshaq Jahangiri, who has also registered in the race to back up his boss, reiterated his opponents' involvement in embezzlement cases and human rights abuses, an endeavor that Rouhani himself and his cabinet have not been exempt from.
Ghalibaf is a former Revolutionary Guard commander, and has by several accounts boasted about his participation in cracking down on peaceful protests. Raisi is notoriously known for his key role in the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners, the majority of whom were members and supporters of the MEK Iranian opposition group. Rouhani, an elite of Iran's security apparatus, has a violent background of his own. During his tenure, more than 3,000 executions have been carried out and freedom of expression and the press have deteriorated.
None of these facts are new, but seeing the regime's top elite stipulating them further accentuates the widening rift among the ruling class. Several top clerics, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, are now warning against the consequences of infighting getting out of control.
Meanwhile, the Iranian people, unfazed by the lineup of criminals jockeying for power, have adopted their own ways to express their real thoughts about the elections and the regime in its entirety.
In spite of the associated dangers, the disgruntled population are taking to the streets and putting up posters of opposition leaders while defacing those of the regime candidates. Activists are also using the Telegram social media platform, which is widely used in Iran, to broadcast documentary videos that reveal the backgrounds of the presidential candidates, their involvement in committing crimes against the Iranian people and plundering the country's riches. On Twitter, Persian hashtags translating to "I won't vote" and "My vote regime change" have become popular among users.
Terrified by the amount of online and street activism, Iran's cyber-police and law enforcement have issued warnings, but to no avail. In tandem with Friday's live debate, Iranian activists denounced all candidates on the "Third Debate" hashtag on Twitter, which eventually topped the worldwide trends chart for several hours.
Iran's constitution and electoral process certainly give Khamenei every power to manipulate the results and turnout to his favor. But the people are casting their real vote in the streets and on social media, and are making it clear that they're fed up with the tyrants ruling them.
Amir Basiri (@amir_bas) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is an Iranian human rights activist.
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