AFP: Calling Iran's presidential election a "sham," Canada's top diplomat urged Iranians Thursday to "make their voices heard" by casting protest ballots, boycotting the vote or using satire to express criticism.
OTTAWA (AFP) — Calling Iran's presidential election a "sham," Canada's top diplomat urged Iranians Thursday to "make their voices heard" by casting protest ballots, boycotting the vote or using satire to express criticism.

"Despite all the efforts of the regime to control the process and the outcome, the hopes and aspirations of the Iranian people are not bound by the artificial choice that the regime has forced on Iranians," Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said.

"While the regime tries to silence the voices of the Iranian people, Canada encourages Iranians to make their voices heard," he added, calling Friday's vote a "sham election."

"Whether Iranian voters confide to close friends, express their criticism of the election through satire, cast a protest vote, participate in an online virtual vote or boycott the election altogether, Canada commends the bravery of all those who express their desire for freedom."

Some 50.5 million voters are eligible to cast ballots for a successor to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, under whose presidency Iran has been isolated internationally over its controversial nuclear drive.

International sanctions slapped on Tehran in a bid to force it to give up its sensitive enrichment work have sparked a deep economic crisis in the Islamic republic, which has dominated the election campaign.

Only eight male candidates out of nearly 700 registrants were approved by the hardline Guardians Council, Iran's electoral watchdog, to run in the race. Two subsequently dropped out.

Those remaining in Friday's contest are conservatives mostly close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, former Revolutionary Guards commander Mohsen Rezai, and ex-communication minister Mohammad Gharazi. Cleric Hassan Rowhani is the sole moderate candidate.

Baird noted that only three percent of foreign journalists who sought to cover the poll were granted entry visas.

According to authorities in Tehran, 1,400 foreign reporters have been accredited.

Canada's foreign office meanwhile directed Iranians to a University of Toronto website (theglobaldialogue.ca) to report polling violations or vote in a shadow election.

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