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How much change do Iranians really want?

Iranians want a lot of things. What they don’t want is to be told that their vote doesn’t count or that it doesn’t matter.
Iranian voters queue to cast their vote for both parliamentary elections and the Assembly of Experts at polling station in Tehran on February 26, 2016.

Iranians began voting across the country in elections billed by the moderate president as vital to curbing conservative dominance in parliament and speeding up domestic reforms after a nuclear deal with world powers. / AFP / ATTA KENARE        (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)

Wash, rinse, repeat. If you’re a politician in Iran running for election or re-election, your best bet is to have the endorsement of Khatami. Mohammad Khatami, that is. In another era, Khatami was twice elected president, but today he is banned from leaving the country and his name and face are banned from the domestic media. No matter, his hands suffice these days: Election posters for the Reform and moderate list of candidates running for parliament last week showed only them, recognizable from the ring on his finger. People knew what that meant. Simultaneously, a reminder that he was backing the candidates and a “bilakh” (the finger) by the Reformists to those who insist he is so dangerous that his very features must remain hidden from the public.

Iranians are good at giving the finger: They collectively raised it almost three years ago, too. The same Khatami, only days before the 2013 presidential election — enough time for a message to register, but not enough time for hard-liners to counter it — endorsed the lesser-known Hassan Rouhani and urged the electorate to make their voices heard. They followed, if only to give the finger to those, inside and outside Iran, who claim Iranian elections don’t matter. This time, he endorsed a long list of candidates — whose names would have to be handwritten on ballots by voters — via video on the popular messaging app Telegram. To be safe, the video was also uploaded to YouTube, which is censored in Iran but available to those who want to access it via VPN. Wash, rinse, repeat.

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