Punchy politics on social media as Iranians go to polls

Image of the Queen Image copyright Telegram/@No2UK
Image caption In this sticker design shared by conservative supporters Queen Elizabeth urges people to "vote for her list" - a jibe at reformist candidates - seemingly unaware of the punch heading her way wrapped in the Iranian flag.

A war of stickers has been raging as Iranians prepared to take part in the country's key elections on Friday.

The battle is between the two main political fronts, the reformists and the hardline conservatives. The front line? Telegram, the most popular mobile phone messaging app in Iran.

Campaign groups on both sides have created myriad stickers, online graphics which can be added to messages like emojis, that are being used by Telegram users to push their side's point of view.

The ultraconservative camp is using images of foreign and historical figures, such as Queen Elizabeth and Winston Churchill, to imply that a vote for a moderate candidate is a vote for unwanted outside interference in Iran's affairs. In one picture a clenched fist, symbolising Iranian nationalism, is shown on course to land an electoral punch to the face of the British monarch.

Iran elections: Five things to know

It's an attempt to counter the message of the reformist campaign, whose figurehead is former President Mohammad Khatami. On Monday, he released a video urging Iranians to support the candidates on the lists of moderates who are standing in the elections to Parliament and the influential Assembly of Experts.

"Vote for both the lists, all the individuals in both the list, I repeat, vote for all the individuals in both the lists," he said. As BBC Trending has reported, these words have inspired a series of Dubsmash videos in which supporters are seen miming to a recording of the former president.

The phrase is also now being used in stickers circulated by moderates that show former President Khatami in various poses.

Image copyright Telegram
Image caption Some of the stickers show former president Mohammad Khatami in a relaxed mood.

The reformist stickers also show another Khatami, the hardline cleric Ahmad Khatami (no relation) looking alarmed. The caption suggests that his distress is due to the possibility that ultraconservative candidates like himself could be blocked if the reformists get their vote out in large enough numbers.

Image copyright Telegram
Image caption "We are finished! Are you going to vote for all the candidates on both the lists?"

Throughout the campaign Iranian moderates, both inside and outside the country, have been debating whether the best way to use their votes is to block certain hardline candidates from being elected to the Assembly of Experts which chooses and supervises Iran's Supreme Leader. The current Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

It has also been a topic of discussion on BBC Persian, which enjoys a large viewership in Iran. People watch the channel on satellite TV, despite it being banned.

The current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has criticised any opposition to the hardline front accusing the British broadcast media of interfering in Iran's affairs.

"The British radio is giving guidelines to the people saying vote for so-and-so and do not vote for so-and-so! What is this? Are the British missing their interferences in Iran's affairs?", Ayatollah Khamenei said in one of his recent speeches.

A set of stickers showing the Supreme Leader along side words from his latest speeches about the elections are another yet another example by the pro-conservative camp.

Image copyright Telegram/@khamene'i.ir
Image caption "The Iranian nation does not need a pro-government parliament or does it need an anti-government parliament"

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As the conservatives' motto is "adhering to the guidelines of the leader", they have created a series of stickers against the BBC and what is presented as the negative influence of Britain. Many of the stickers incorporate the hashtag #No2UK.

Image copyright Telegram/@No2UK
Image caption "I have really missed interfering in Iran," Winston Churchill says in this sticker.
Image copyright Telegram/@afsaran_ir
Image caption "To the sheer annoyance of the BBC, we will vote for Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi", says this pro-conservative sticker.

Other stickers reference the 1953 coup that saw the democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadeq, toppled with the help of the US and UK. The BBC's role is often highlighted.

Image copyright Telegram/@No2UK
Image caption " I am Reza Khan Mirpanj. I became the Shah with the help of the British".
Image copyright Telegram/@No2UK
Image caption " I am Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, I became the king with the help from Americans and the British".

Off the back of these historical events, the conservatives have produced a series of stickers displaying politicians holding up a placard that reads " I am the outcome of British interference". Some of the designs feature the last Shah of Iran and his father who are presented as puppets of the West. The inference is that supporting reformists will open the door to similar imperialist meddling in the country.

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