Senior Correspondent, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
On Friday I will vote for the first time in my life.
I will cast my ballot at the Iranian Embassy in Prague, where I live and work as a journalist at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. I wish I could go back to Iran to vote, but I won’t risk being detained or harassed as many of my colleagues have been for the "crime" of disseminating information that Iranians cannot get from the country’s strictly controlled media.
Why will I vote? After all, Iran is not a democracy. Won’t voting serve to legitimize a regime characterized by human rights violations? A regime often in the news for jailing women and young people who seek to exercise their universal rights. A regime that is the only one in the world that executes juvenile offenders. A regime that forced me to wear the Islamic hijab when I was only a child and whose intolerance and injustice compelled me to leave my homeland.
I used such arguments to explain why I never voted before. I know the regime has not changed, but this time I will vote. Why? I’ve changed.
Four years ago, many Iranians boycotted the presidential election for all these reasons and more. But did that make Iran more democratic? Did it improve things? No, the situation in the country only got worse. Iran is a country with limited choice, but with choice nonetheless and not voting only paves the way for extremists to expand and solidify their power. This is exactly what we have witnessed in Iran over the past four years.
Personal freedoms have been eroded and the human rights situation has grown significantly worse. Poverty is on the rise and Iran is more isolated than ever before.
But hope has not died. I am excited about this election, and I have caught that excitement from the people with whom I have spoken in Iran, people who are energized by the hope of a new beginning under more moderate leadership.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not being unrealistic. I know Iran will not become a democratic state anytime soon. I also know that I won’t be able to return to the land where I was born soon either. I know Iran is governed from the top down and that the next president – no matter who he is – will be under the thumb of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
But change can come to Iran, slow changes that one day will produce a democracy. I am choosing hope over inaction and despair. So, I will vote.
Editor’s Note: Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent with RFE/RL and the editor of "Persian Letters" a blog that offers a window onto Iranian life by translating and showcasing the works of Persian-language bloggers.
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