Expat Iranians came to Queens last Friday to vote in their country’s presidential election. Those who spoke to the Chronicle said they were hoping for a more moderate president to replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Four years ago, Iran’s presidential election ended in farce and tragedy.
The result of the election was announced two hours after polls closed. Ahmadinejad was declared the victor, while peaceful street protests against the disputed election were violently repressed.
“We must get rid of the extremists and that is why I came all the way from Boston,” said Hamad, 25, who moved to the United States in 2011.
“I voted for Dr. Rouhani, a pro-reformist. Hopefully he wins. I hope so. I’m not sure,” he said outside the Razi School on 55th Street and Queens Boulevard, in Woodside, one of 12 locations throughout the U.S. where expat Iranians could vote.
Omid, 34, said there was a lot of optimism among New York’s Persian community about the election.
“We’re having hopes for a more moderate president,” he said, adding that strong turnout was expected because people wanted to “show their discontent with the political path that Iran has chosen.”
“This is one of the best ways to show it, in the most democratic, civilized and peaceful way, that they do not agree with many things that are going on in Iranian politics,” Omid said.
He added there was a strong sense that the authorities would have to respect the will of the people this time because of the mass discontent with the 2009 vote and the resulting violent crackdown on peaceful protesters.
Yashar, also 34, echoed this sentiment. “Chances are higher this time,” he said.
“The past eight years have been the darkest times in Iran,” said Yashar, who left Iran in 2009, after the election. “Many left the country after that election.”
“This time there was a huge division between the reformists whether to vote or not,” he said. “But it seems that momentum started gathering in recent days.”
Outgoing President Ahmadinejad was barred from running in Friday’s election after serving two consecutive terms. His eight-year reign was marked by increased media repression and the jailing of opponents as well as his publicly denying the Holocaust on several occasions and his defiance of the international community over the nature of Iran’s nuclear program.
Mismanagement of the economy as well as international sanctions have also severely impacted Iran. Oil exports have been cut in half and inflation and unemployment rates are at record highs.
As it turned out, the sense that authorities would count all the votes in this year’s election and that the reformist candidate would prevail appear to have been well-founded. Hassan Rouhani was elected, receiving 18,613,329 votes out of 36,704,156 ballots cast, accounting for 52 percent of the vote, according to Iran’s Interior Ministry, which also said 72 percent of the electorate voted.
Asked after casting her ballot if she was optimistic about the future of Iran under a new president, Neda, 26, said, “What can I do? That’s the only option I have — to be optimistic.”