Thursday, June 16, 2005

Secrecy, boycott limit Iran vote in ‘Teherangeles’

Khaleej Times:
Hundreds of thousands of Iranians in Los Angeles, home to the world’s largest Iranian expatriate community, will have to search for places to cast absentee ballots in Friday’s presidential election — if they decide to vote at all.

Secrecy over the location of polling places in California, along with a call for a boycott by Iranian opposition groups means the estimated 500,000 expatriates in “Teherangeles” will likely be denied or relinquish a voice in what is expected to be the closest election in Iran’s history.

Iran has announced it will make arrangements for polling in 33 US cities. But by late Wednesday, only half the locations were listed on its Web site and no details were given for any of the six selected sites in California. READ MORE

It’s a kind of cat-and-mouse game but we will overcome them,” said Aryo Pirouznia, spokesman of the opposition Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran.

Exile opposition groups fear the vote will be fraudulent and want a boycott to deny the Islamic Republic a popular show of support. Pirouznia’s group said the effort by Teheran to organize voting in the United States was “a desperate effort to legitimize its sham presidential elections.”

Teheran has no diplomatic relations with Washington. The Iranian interests section in the Pakistani Embassy in Washington could not be reached for comment.

Friday’s presidential election could determine whether Iran sticks to the bumpy path of reform initiated by outgoing cleric Mohammad Khatami.

Polls inside Iran show Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who wants better ties with the West, is favored to win the presidential contest. Three conservative hopefuls and three reformists are competing with Rafsanjani.
Stakes are high

Four years ago, opposition groups managed to close down all seven Los Angeles area polling places that were discreetly set up for the 2001 Iranian presidential elections.

This time, they say the stakes are even higher after eight years that have brought only limited social freedoms.

We have to raise the noise level and try and shut this down. We still haven’t found which hotels,” said Iman Foroutan, executive director of the Los Angeles-based Iran of Tomorrow Movement — a coalition of 25-30 groups embracing all ideologies.

If activists identify the California locations, they plan to picket outside, film people going in and show them on local Iranian television stations, and persuade hotels to back out either because of Iran’s human rights record or for business reasons.

Los Angeles is home to a vast, highly educated and often divided Iranian community, most of whom left Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

More than 20 Los Angeles-based Iranian satellite TV stations have played a growing role in rallying both internal and exile opposition to the Islamic Republic.

Several thousand people demonstrated in Los Angeles on Sunday in support of political prisoners in Iran, joining the heir to Iran’s throne, Reza Pahlavi, who called for an election boycott and announced a three-day hunger strike.

Opposition groups say the boycott will be widely heeded both inside and outside Iran.

Inside Iran, the majority of Iranians will stay at home. They will not even give the regime the opportunity to simulate a popular show of support,” Pirouznia said.

We have been mobilizing through TV for three months. Popular exasperation has reached its zenith. This year, more than ever, there is a moral duty and an urgency to protest.”
We have the locations of the polling places here.