AFP: The mood in Iran’s universities has plunged to a new low, with students who once voted in droves for reform staying away from next week’s presidential election after a string of hammer blows to their hopes. Despite providing a crucial support base for President Mohammad Khatami’s two election victories, the slow pace of reform, arrests and continued crackdowns by vigilantes have left many students in a state of indifferent fury. AFP
TEHRAN – The mood in Iran’s universities has plunged to a new low, with students who once voted in droves for reform staying away from next week’s presidential election after a string of hammer blows to their hopes.
Despite providing a crucial support base for President Mohammad Khatami’s two election victories, the slow pace of reform, arrests and continued crackdowns by vigilantes have left many students in a state of indifferent fury.
“The students appear the least willing to go to the polls, even less than the last parliamentary elections,” said Abdollah Momeni, a leader in the office to consolidate unity, Iran’s largest pro-democracy student group.
The group has called for a boycott of the June 17 election, “as a reformist act to show we don’t want to provide the system with legitimacy” said Momeni.
“It is not that we don’t care but it’s a conscious decision that means we don’t approve of the system,” he said.
Momeni said students are disillusioned with reformists who “have given in to pressures from conservatives in order to stay in power at any cost and have lost their popular support.”
Scores of students have been arrested and jailed in recent years. The hardline vigilantes have cracked down on their gatherings and beaten them up.
With suspended jail terms hanging over their heads, many student leaders and activists have chosen to shut up for fear of being hauled back to prison again.
In December 2004, when Khatami last appeared at a university meeting, he was booed and heckled with shouts of “Khatami shame on you”, “Khatami we detest you” and “Khatami, our votes were wasted on you”.
“Reformists have played all their cards to attract students’ support: creating fake excitement, propaganda, hollow promises and inciting fear of the other party,” Momeni said.
“Now they say if you don’t vote for us the fascists will emerge and ruin everything and provoke foreign attacks,” was his response to last-minute reformist pleas for students to vote.
Architecture student Shahab Ghandehari, 24, is one of the millions who swept Khatami into office in 1997 and 2001.
“I am not sure if our votes are going to change anything,” he said, adding that an air of indifference was prevailing at Tehran University.
“The reformists have failed to come up with a charismatic candidate and the rest are pretty much the same,” he said. “I might cast a blank vote or even vote for Moin, as if military men win they will be only concerned with security and not freedom”.
Many students questioned on Tehran campuses said they were not going to vote but there were occasional nods for reformist candidate Mostafa Moin, ex-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and former police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf.
“What has any of them done to convince me I should go to the ballots again?” asked Hamid, a mathematics student.
Manijeh, 21, a chador-clad student of economics is among the few who favour the hardline Qalibaf, who is promoting himself as a populist technocrat.
“He is well-dressed, young and above all he is not a cleric. He has done a good job with the (police) force,” she said.
Mohammad, a graduate student of electronics in Tehran’s prestigious Sharif University, said he could not care less about the election.
“We are frustrated, we have had enough of lip service and no real reforms,” he said, adding he wants to apply to Canadian or US universities for a PhD, following the route taken by many of his friends.
At a branch of Azad University, where unlike in state universities students pay hefty tuition fees, the atmosphere is more in favor of Rafsanjani.
“It is because of our families. It is not easy for my father to pay so much money for my schooling,” said Maryam Jalali, 22.
She pays about 4,200,000 rials (about 500 dollars) for every semester to win a degree in food technology — but like so many of her fellow students the hard-earned qualification may never get her a job.
“Rafsanjani is powerful and he might be able to fix things,” she said.