March 11, 2008 / 12:51 AM / 10 years ago

Many Iranians, rich and poor, want real change

<p>Two men talk as they sit behind a picture of Asadollah Kian Ersi, a candidate for Iran's upcoming parliamentary elections, at his election campaign rally in Tehran in this March 9, 2008 file photo. The elections will be held on March 14. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl/Files</p>

TEHRAN (Reuters) - They live a world apart in the same sprawling city.

One is a working-class single mother who holds down two jobs to feed her four children. The other, a wealthy housewife, lives in a villa in upscale north Tehran.

The women will vote for the same group of candidates in Iran’s parliamentary election on Friday, but for different reasons. What unites them, and many others, is their disillusionment -- either with hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or his reformist opponents.

Maryam Fadai, 36, works in a factory in the morning and cleans houses in the afternoon. She voted for Ahmadinejad in 2005 when he promised to distribute oil wealth more equitably but his supporters will not get her backing this time.

“I voted for Ahmadinejad. But nothing changed,” she said in her tiny two-room home in south Tehran, during a brief rest from juggling jobs and cooking and cleaning for her family.

Ahmadinejad’s economic decisions have come under fire as inflation has surged to around 20 percent, making many Iranians feel poorer despite the country’s windfall oil earnings.

Analysts say voter anger over the president’s economic performance could see most of Tehran’s 30 parliamentary seats go to a moderate conservative group formed by Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, the capital’s mayor.

“I will vote for Qalibaf’s group ... I want some changes in my life,” said Fadai, who rushes to her second job after her factory shift, returning home late at night.

“I feel cheated because I voted for conservatives to have a better life. Did I get it?”

Sanaz Heshmati, 42, whose husband is a rich businessman, will also vote for Qalibaf, a former police chief who represents a moderate conservative camp critical of Ahmadinejad.

Heshmati has turned her back on reformists who promised a liberal society when they swept to power a decade ago, but who were beaten back by Iran’s conservative establishment.

Now they can contest only a few of the 290 assembly seats because of an official vetting process that has barred many.

“Neither conservatives nor reformists were successful while dominating parliament. Now let’s give Qalibaf’s people a chance,” she said in her comfortable living-room.

KEEPING PROMISES

Friday’s vote is expected to provide a gauge of Ahmadinejad’s chances for re-election next year, but it will not directly affect foreign, oil or other major policies.

And many Iranians, like Fadai, do not care whether conservatives or reformists win. All they want is for lawmakers and officials to “keep their promises.”

In north Tehran, where people who became rich after the 1979 Islamic revolution live in houses worth up to $10,000 per square meter, Heshmati sees Iran’s reformist and conservative groups as two sides of the same coin.

“Any political group that focuses on slogans rather than implementing them is harmful for Iran,” she said.

Analysts say the vote could boost moderate conservatives who have repeatedly criticized Ahmadinejad for concentrating power around his close allies and ignoring the broader conservative camp.

Moderate conservatives favor greater economic liberalization and improved ties with the West -- locked in a row with Iran over its nuclear programme -- but do not challenge Iran’s system of clerical rule.

“People want moderate, tangible measures, not populist slogans and strategies,” said political analyst Hossein Faratan. “This election will be very similar to the city council election when Ahmadinejad supporters lost.”

Pro-Qalibaf candidates won a majority in Tehran’s 2006 municipal election, seen as the start of a shift favoring more moderate policies than those pursued by Ahmadinejad.

“If Ahmadinejad wants to run for a second term, he should consider the election result as a warning signal,” said one analyst who asked not to be named.

“But let us not forget that Ahmadinejad is still very popular in the provinces.”

Editing by Alistair Lyon

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