Iranians study election leaflets knowing most
reformers have been barred [Getty]
It is just hours to go before the eighth round of regular parliamentary elections in the Islamic Republic.

Ayatollah Khamenei, the spiritual leader is on TV preaching to a large crowd of neatly separated men and women seated respectfully on the floor with legs folded and eyes fixed on the high podium above. 

The camera scans through attentive and mainly middle-aged faces only slightly distracted by a few restless small children and roaming lenses on all sides.

The men are dressed according to the fashion sense of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, and the women look like mourners in black, even though we are just nine days away from our joyful and two-week long new year Noruz celebrations.

Occasional nods of sombre approval animate the screen, but no smiles. 

Khamenei's monotonous and calm recanting of Islamic history and the Prophet's teachings effortlessly flows into the realms of nuclear power, human rights and global injustices.

He adds that he has no qualms with the ordinary people of other nations before starting on a long list of US and Israeli state atrocities against the downtrodden of the earth. 

Talking to Mina

I take a break from spiritual guidance for about 15 minutes to conduct a telephone interview with Mina, a 22-year-old theology student from the poorer districts of Tehran.

Her sophisticated analysis reminds me again of why our 'intelligentsia' of yesteryear are baking in the California sun.

"If you don't vote it gets harder to find jobs when you graduate."
Soon though I have to interrupt our conversation to turn down the TV volume since the loud 'death to…' chants are making it hard for us to concentrate on priorities for the youth in Iran. 

A devout Muslim, Mina says that the outgoing parliament has concentrated more on the plight of common people as compared to the self-serving tendencies of previous representatives.

In answer to my hypothetical question of what she would do for the youth if she were the president today, she reminds me that she has no such right in the Islamic Republic. I almost heard her call me 'stupid' too at the end of that short sentence, though that might have been me. 

"Employment generation, economic restructuring and lowering inflation would be my top priorities for the youth in Iran today, males and females alike," she said.

"These are all inter-related issues that need long-term strategies for the desired results. Anyone in power would need to tackle these in an integrated fashion, and there are no quick fixes. Though many of the parties utter the right slogans for the youth, none of them have presented credible implementation plans."

Rampant unemployment

The March 14 polls are seen as a test for
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [EPA]
Unemployment for Iranian youth between the ages of 15 and 24 in urban areas stands at around 40 to 50 per cent for men and 60 per cent for women. As we end our conversation, there is only one thought on my mind - our loss for not giving the likes of Mina the right to run for President. 

When I return from the call, Khamenei's monologue has predictably moved on to why everyone must vote on Friday.

The message is clear: 'The elections are a day of national and religious unity and strength'.

And who to vote for? 'Those with a proven track record and commitment to the Revolution'.

With a bit of inside knowledge we can infer that such dedicated revolutionaries can be found in the ranks of the Revolutionary Guards where the likes of Ahmadinejad and Tehran's current Mayor and presidential hopeful, Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, proved their commitment to the regime long ago. 

But from Iranian youth's perspective, Friday's vote is also a day for career advancement, similar to weekly Friday prayer attendance duties that are closely monitored by 'human resource managers'.

Chanting, voting, being devout and donning beards and veils are important prerequisites for success in Iran, similar to wearing ties and/or designer suits in the West. 

Voting for jobs

Mahtab, a well-to-do, 22-year-old law student from uptown Tehran, said: "The system should be more merit-based to make sure that the right people are in the right jobs."

"If I could, I would not even vote, but if you don't vote it gets harder to find jobs when you graduate," she said.

Ali, a 24-year-old engineer from a middle-income background was campaigning for the reformists at a petrol station around midnight when he approached our car stuck in the long queue.

My uncle was playing the typical Persian grouch-cum-conspiracy-theorist song in my right ear at the time. Being stuck in a long petrol queue at midnight in a major oil-producing country was the perfect setting for his rant. 

So what would Ali do for the youth if he were afforded a chance to run for president?

Important issues

"I would make peace with the world to boost the economy and create job opportunities. Nuclear technology is our right, of course, but we have so many more important issues in the country," he said.

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And he would reduce pressure on young people.

"We want to enjoy life and have a bit more fun. Why do they keep harassing us about what we wear or look like?" Ali asked almost rhetorically.

Why indeed, I asked myself as we drove off with an encouraging smile to Ali, and a look of vindication on my uncle's face. 

At the next junction I mentioned something about voting to my uncle, and he looked at me like I had no clue.

"There is no point voting in this country. All the good candidates have been barred, and the winners are predetermined," he said.

I thought of Ali's enthusiasm and all the empty assurances people must be giving him to make his eyes glint with hope.

How will he feel about his leaders after the elections?

Massoud Parsi is an Iranian-born graduate of Manchester University with several years of experience in the field of development planning. He is currently working as a freelance writer and consultant in the region.

Source: Al Jazeera