What matters most to Iranians in presidential vote?

As campaigning gets under way, Al Jazeera speaks with six Iranian voters about their views on the upcoming election.

Iran vox pop
Iranians go to the polls on May 19 to vote for their next president [Wojtek Arciszewski/Al Jazeera]

Tehran – Amid a climate of global uncertainty and heightened geopolitical tensions, Iranians will go to the polls next month to vote for the country’s next president.

While the prospect of internal stability could prompt voters to give Hassan Rouhani another term, analysts say, the incumbent president has faced criticism for failing to deliver on rapid economic change two years after the country’s landmark nuclear deal.

Of the hundreds of people who signed up to run in the May 19 election, only a few were approved as candidates. Among those rejected last week was former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had surprised observers by registering as a candidate despite being advised not to by the country’s Supreme Leader. Favoured among hardliners is conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi, while Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf has also been approved to run. 

As the contenders officially begin their campaigns, Al Jazeera spoke with a variety of Iranian voters about their views on the upcoming election and what issues the next president should prioritise.

Saman Jamshidi  
Educational supervisor and financial adviser, 36
[Wojtek Arciszewski/Al Jazeera]
[Wojtek Arciszewski/Al Jazeera]

The country is not in a very stable situation politically, and the election of a conservative extremist could damage the present situation even more. That’s my biggest worry right now, although I don’t think that’s a very likely thing to happen.

I don’t think it would be good to change the president right now. In politics, things take a long time to show the results. It’s been two years since the nuclear agreement, and as a person who is educated, I think it takes at least half a decade for the sanctions – which were in place for more than a decade – to reverse.

Domestically, people’s lifestyles are not very positive nowadays. People are not very happy. A top priority within the country is employment. 

Externally, the president cannot realistically make very big changes, because there are some fundamental basics that are the foundation of the revolution, and he cannot change them. For example, I don’t agree with saying “death to” any country. These are the rooted slogans within the system and the president cannot touch them. In terms of foreign policies, his hands are somewhat tied.

Sheida Heidarian  
PhD biotechnology student, 26
[Wojtek Arciszewski/Al Jazeera]
[Wojtek Arciszewski/Al Jazeera]

The priority for the next president should be the future and employment of young people. This will determine whether students can get a good position and contribute to society under the next government.

I think the country should have more research facilities, and more financial opportunities, which could help to give confidence to young people that they will be able to get a good position in their chosen fields of study after graduating. Research opportunities are also very important for Iran’s society and the country’s industry. 

Some young people have become indifferent and don’t care about the outcome of this election, but others have become very active with their opinions, particularly in cyberspace.

Amir Mohammed Olfat  
Student, 19
[Wojtek Arciszewski/Al Jazeera]
[Wojtek Arciszewski/Al Jazeera]

In Iran, there is no election actually. It’s called that officially, but it doesn’t really have any meaning. We cannot define it. No one has any genuine perspective on the candidates and who may be better for the country.

All candidates should recognise that freedom is the most important issue in the country – freedom in everything, which is what the citizens want.

Also, it is important for politicians to do what they say they’re going to do, and to follow through on their promises. However, I don’t believe there won’t be any change in this country. Everyone has to have some perspective about the country’s history and religion. 

When I talk about freedom, I mean in everything – freedom in clothing covering, freedom to work on whatever you want. But the current atmosphere doesn’t allow for this. The conservative society is the biggest problem right now.

Hamid Rahnema 
Civil servant, 33
[Wojtek Arciszewski/Al Jazeera]
[Wojtek Arciszewski/Al Jazeera]

The most important issue in this presidential election is finances, the economy, which is an issue that affects many people. 

Financial problems in Iran have been very persistent. Inflation is still very high. Rouhani promised to solve the economy in the first 100 days of his presidency, but he hasn’t delivered on this.

There are also other problems that need to be addressed, like the environment, and the high levels of pollution in Tehran.

I don’t think Rouhani will win again. His rivals with have a better chance. The post-nuclear-deal era hasn’t seen tangible changes within the country. The president has failed to deliver on his promises.

Rahil Esmaili 
Teacher, 33
[Wojtek Arciszewski/Al Jazeera]
[Wojtek Arciszewski/Al Jazeera]

In every country, not just Iran, elections are very important, but I really don’t care about them, because nothing happens. Before the vote, all presidents promise things to the citizens, but they aren’t telling the truth. 

My family and I, no one cares about this election, and we don’t want to participate. The feeling is that nothing important will come out of it.

In my opinion, what the president should address is freedom in speaking, in expressing our ideas. There are many problems in Iran. Nobody cares enough about animals here; sometimes having pets, such as dogs, is illegal. 

Protection of poor people, teachers’ rights, pollution in Tehran – this is a really big deal. Changing the location of the capital city could be something to consider for the next president. 

Fatimeh Sharifi  
Student, 19
[Wojtek Arciszewski/Al Jazeera]
[Wojtek Arciszewski/Al Jazeera]

Right now, the economic situation is the most important issue to consider in the election.

With the current situation, particularly in my field of study – exploring techniques for helping people with hearing problems – getting a job after school ends is a difficult prospect.

Iran’s international relationships with other countries should also be further developed and improved. The better foreign relations it has, the more investment we may get in various fields of study, and this would give students a better chance of finding a job.

I think young people, particularly in big cities, will be engaged in this election for this reason.

Follow Megan O’Toole on Twitter: @megan_otoole

Source: Al Jazeera