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From The Streets Of Tehran: Iranians' Thoughts Ahead Of Friday's Vote For President

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

This Friday Iranian voters will elect a new president to replace the outgoing president, Hassan Rouhani. Polls suggest a hardline cleric is the frontrunner. NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Tehran, where he's finding many Iranians disillusioned with politics and planning to skip the vote.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Summerlike temperatures arrived early in the Iranian capital this year, but Iranians say it isn't the triple-digit heat that's leaving them uninterested in this year's presidential campaign. Seven candidates were picked to run in the election, with the hardline cleric and head of the judiciary Ebrahim Raisi seen as the favorite. But at a park sitting in the shade, 25-year-old Mohammad Sarabi says through an interpreter he doesn't see much point in voting because he considers this a sham election.

MOHAMMAD SARABI: (Through interpreter) Everybody knows that Raisi's going to be the next president - no need to have any election for him.

KENYON: He says those who do vote will likely be people such as military personnel or those with government jobs who might fear retribution if they didn't vote. One of the reasons for the widespread disillusionment among voters is their recent experience with outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, a politician described as a pragmatist. Iranians turned out in large numbers to elect Rouhani over Raisi and other candidates in 2013 [see POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION below]. But after an initial political honeymoon, people grew frustrated with the lack of improvement in their day-to-day lives, especially the sour economy after then-President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 nuclear agreement and reimposed sanctions on Iran.

Elsewhere in the park, 30-year-old Behrouz, who was friendly but didn't want to give his last name for fear of retribution for speaking to an American reporter, says it's a familiar story in Iranian politics.

BEHROUZ: (Speaking Farsi).

KENYON: Look; ever since the victory of the Islamic Revolution, we have never been able to tell exactly what kind of a person a candidate has been before the election, let alone after the election.

BEHROUZ: (Speaking Farsi).

KENYON: He doesn't think it's any coincidence that most of Iran's past presidents seem to disappear from public view after leaving office. Forty-seven-year-old Rahim, who was also afraid to use his last name, says he was so enthusiastic about Rouhani during the 2013 election that he worked for his campaign.

RAHIM: (Through interpreter) I have been in the previous election working and cooperating with the headquarter for Mr. Rouhani to win the election, and he won the election. And afterward, I am unhappy that he's elected as a member of his presidential campaign.

KENYON: Rahim says his main disappointment was watching the economy slump despite Rouhani's promises. For Zakita, disappointment doesn't begin to describe her reaction to Iranian politics. When asked who she favors in the upcoming election, she begins to curse before giving her opinion.

ZAKITA: (Through interpreter) They are lying for 40 years, and they can go to the hell.

KENYON: Top officials, including Rouhani, have been calling for a big turnout. But anecdotal evidence from the streets suggests many will stay home Friday.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Tehran.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The original audio in this story included profanity in Farsi which has been removed. In addition, we removed a line from the story audio that included the wrong year that Raisi previously ran for President of Iran.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.