Iranian youth unmoved by elections

From leafy north Tehran and its chic coffee shops to the tea houses in the grim, grey south of the Iranian capital, it would have been thought that the Islamic republic's youth would have been agonising over politics with just days to go before a vote of their country's political future.

    The abscence of significant reforms is a gripe among youth

    But most appear to have their minds set firmly on matters wholly unrelated to Friday's parliamentary elections, be it a spot of cosmetic surgery or skiing for the wealthy few, or grappling with an uncertain economic future for the rest.
    Leila is 21 and readily acknowledges to being one of the hordes of voters who in past polls turned out to back President Muhammad Khatami and his pro-reform allies - a movement now poised for defeat, given that most of their candidates have been barred from standing.

    "I voted twice for the reformists," she says, sipping cappuccino while being careful not to get any froth on the bandage covering her recently adjusted nose.

    Vote instrumental

    And will she be voting this time?

    Young people say 'not much point
    voting for reformists anymore'

    She pauses for a moment, as if in deep thought, and then replies: "I don't really know. There's not much point voting for the reformists anymore."

    Finally she makes up her mind: "I'm not going to vote. It won't change anything at all," she says, before returning to her conversation with friends on the recent lack of fresh snow on the pistes north of Tehran.

    Like many Iranians, more than two-thirds of whom are too young to remember the 1979 Islamic revolution, Leila's vote has in the past been instrumental in shaping Iran's political dynamic.

    Reformist mandate

    Since 1997, the Islamic republic has been buffeted by a wind of change - reformists with a crushing mandate to challenge the power of the ruling clerics have been shifting the delicate balance between Islam and Western-style democracy.

    "What can I do? You need good connections to get a good job ... and all I see is corruption, and that applies to conservatives and reformists"

    unemployed 19-year old


    But despite holding the executive and the parliament since 1997 and 2000 respectively, reformists have run into stiff obstacles laid down by hardliners determined to prevent what they see as an erosion of the Islamic values the 1979 revolution was designed to deliver.

    With the hardliners exercising their power through the courts, legislative oversight bodies, the official media and the security forces, reformers - themselves divided between leftists and moderates - have stood little chance.
    Khatami 'weak'

    "Khatami is not a bad man, but he has been too weak," complains one of Leila's friends, also drinking coffee in the bar nestled in the wealthy north of the city that looks over the smog-clad poorer south.

    Youth are disappointed in
    President Muhammad Khatami 

    "Young people are disappointed now. We want more freedoms, but we don't have them, so I think most of us will not be voting. There is no point."

    But the absence of significant social or political reforms is not the only gripe among young people.

    A drive to the south of Tehran, where tree-lined avenues give way to a sparse, polluted urban mess, brings other concerns - notably related to the poor state of the Islamic republic's jobs market.

    "The reformists are always talking about freedom and democracy. And the conservatives talk about religion. But what good is any of that if you can't get a job?" complains Ali, 19 and unemployed.

    Will anything change?

    Official figures put unemployment in Iran close to 13%, although the real figure is believed to be much higher. Aside from the energy sector currently enjoying high oil prices, much of the rest of the economy remains in stagnation.

    "Politicians are all in it for themselves, so how can they expect us to vote for them?"

    Unemployed Iranian youth

    Although proficient in English and holding a high school diploma, Ali complains that his job options are limited.

    "What can I do? You need good connections to get a good job. I do some work driving a taxi sometimes, or delivering groceries for shops. And all I see is corruption, and that applies to conservatives and reformists," he says in a south-central Tehran tea house, a world away from the swanky services on offer up north.

    With that in mind, the unshaven young man says he will not be voting either, another example of what appears to be a broad assumption that nothing will change whoever wins control over the Majlis.
    "Politicians are all in it for themselves, so how can they expect us to vote for them?"



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