Small-town Iran: Voters' worries ahead of election

Street vendor selling watermelon in his shop in Sarcheshmeh street in downtown Tehran on June 4, 2013 Many Iranians have been struggling with higher prices for food and other essentials

"I don't know who I will vote for but I cannot sit idly by," says Arastoo, a 37-year-old shopkeeper in the ancient bazaar in Kashan, some 225km (140 miles) south of Iran's capital, Tehran.

Ahead of the presidential election on 14 June, people here are closely following the campaigns of the eight candidates.

"I am watching them all to see who presents a better economic plan, not better economic slogans," says Arastoo.

"I am fed up with politicians' empty promises."

A small crowd gathers around us, listening to our conversation. Some think I am a representative for one of the candidates.

"We cannot make ends meet," a middle-aged man chips in.

Shepherd in field Seyed Ali is grateful for President Ahmadinejad's policy of paying a subsidy to all Iranians

Another agrees: "With prices going up every day, how can we feed our children? Politicians are all tarred with the same brush - I do not vote for any of them."

But his comment causes a young man to exclaim "Then shut up!" and he tries to edge closer to me.

"Allah says do your best and I will do the rest. Casting your vote is a religious duty, not just a political action," the young man says.

"We have to vote, otherwise God will never help us change the situation for the better, and might punish us."

'No compromise'

After walking through a narrow maze of shops selling all sorts of trinkets, I reach a traditional teashop surrounded by carpet sellers and antique stalls. The hot, humid air smells of mint and rosewater.

Start Quote

Even if people starve to death, they will not give up the revolution's ideals”

End Quote Rahelah Student

Ebrahim Safaiee, a wealthy carpet dealer who also runs a weaving workshop employing a dozen women, says he helps a lot of poor people who come to his shop on a daily basis.

"I try to help them, but how many people I can support? Poverty is the root of all evils."

Although the presidential campaign is in full swing, there are no posters, leaflets or billboards in Kashan, not even on Madkhal, the city's main square.

"It's a waste of money and paper; we know all the candidates," says Hassan, a fruit shop owner in the central Darb-e-Ata square.

BBC Map

"They can spend their money on the poor instead of printing posters. Actions are more important than words."

However, one campaign centre in Panzdah-Khordad Square has been very active in promoting Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, with leaflets and huge posters featuring his slogan "No compromise, no surrender".

Mr Jalili, who champions "resistance" against the West, is a staunch conservative.

The walls of the centre - which is a shop hired by Mr Jalili's allies - are covered in placards reading: "Negotiations with Satan [US] are treason against the Koran."

Young girls clad in chadors are chatting in a corner. Among them is Raheleh, a student at the University of Kashan.

"Mr Jalili will revive the Islamic revolution's ideals," she says.

Supporters of Saeed Jalili at a campaign rally at Tehran University (3 June 2013) Conservative Saeed Jalili is one of eight candidates for president

"Our foreign policy should support the poor across the world. Even if people starve to death, they will not give up the revolution's ideals."

Split nation

We leave Kashan and drive toward the village of Qamsar, famous for its rosewater. On the way, we stop off at the historical Fin Garden, where Iran's famous grand vizier Amirkabir was murdered in 1852.

Some young students are smoking a water pipe in a nearby teashop.

"I need to work and get married but there are no jobs available," says Arsalan, a 24-year-old postgraduate engineering student.

"Some of us are still dependent on money from our fathers, which is a shame. I will vote for someone who is the opposite of [President] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."

Iran's outgoing leader has split the nation.

Seyed Ali, a 36-year-old shepherd walking his sheep and goats on a road outside Kashan, says he loves Mr Ahmadinejad.

Monthly subsidy

"He saved my life. I am the father of four children and Ahmadinejad pays me 2,730,000 rial ($222, £144) every month. No government had done it before."

Iranians have been receiving 455,000 rial ($37, £24) per family member each month since the government introduced its subsidy plan in 2010.

Tea shop in Kashan, Iran A wealthy carpet dealer sipping tea at this cafe says he tries to help the poor where he can

But at a bakery in Qamsar, 57-year-old Masoumeh says: "I will vote for the person who cuts the monthly paid money but sells me bread for the same price as it was eight years ago."

Farhad, a chicken farm worker in the village of Jahagh, has voted twice for Mr Ahmadinejad but is now critical of the government's farming policies.

"The price of imported corn and soybean has gone up drastically in the last eight years due to the exchange rate, and so our production costs have gone up too," he says.

"At harvest time the government imports huge quantities of frozen chickens from Turkey and Latin America and sells them for less than it costs us to raise chickens here.

"A lot of my colleagues have gone bankrupt."

Many Iranians feel disillusioned and view the upcoming election with conflicting emotions.

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