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Why so many Iranians plan not to vote this month – podcast

Two men in a shop watch TV presidential debate on television.
Two men watch Ebrahim Raisi, the conservative frontrunner in Iran’s elections, in a televised presidential debate. Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA

In this episode of The Conversation Weekly, ahead of Iran’s presidential elections later this month, we look at why so many Iranians are planning not to vote. And why light pollution is ruining the romantic mood for fireflies – and how you can help.

Iranians are about to get the chance to vote for a new president on June 18. Hassan Rouhani, president since 2013, is stepping down after serving two terms in office. The frontrunner to succeed him is Ebrahim Raisi, an ultra-conservative and current head of the judiciary.

It’s the first election since a wave of protests hit the country in November 2019, followed by a brutal crackdown by security services in which an estimated 1,500 people were killed.

Getting information about how Iranians view their society and its political leaders is notoriously difficult. People can be scared to answer freely, particularly if they’re called up on the phone by a government-backed pollster. In this episode we speak to two academics in the Netherlands who take a different approach – anonymous online surveys. And they’re getting tens of thousands of people to participate.

Ammar Maleki, assistant professor in public law and governance at Tilburg University, and Pooyan Tamimi Arab, assistant professor of religious studies at Utrecht University carried out a new survey about voting intentions in late May, via the Group for Analyzing and Measuring Attitudes in Iran, a non-profit, independent research organisation. They received responses from 68,000 Iranians living in Iran and found that only 25% plan to vote. Compared to the more than 70% who voted in the last presidential elections in 2017, that’s a dramatic decrease.

Read more: Why Iranians won’t vote: new survey reveals massive political disenchantment

They unpick why so many Iranians plan to abstain and what’s causing this massive political disenchantment. And they explain what some of their previous surveys reveal about a growing secular shift in Iran and whether it’s affecting people’s willingness to participate in elections. “This is the miracle of the Islamic Republic,” says Tamimi Arab, “secularisation to this extent would never have been possible under a secular regime.”

Read more: Iran's secular shift: new survey reveals huge changes in religious beliefs

Our second story (26m20s) provides advice on how to ensure future generations continue to enjoy one of nature’s greatest wonders: fireflies. Their glowing light comes from a biochemical reaction in their abdomen and they use it during courtship as a way to communicate. But the light shows up best in the dark – and as Avalon Owens, a PhD candidate in biology at Tufts University, tells us, its effects are dimmed by artificial light. She explains her new research into what actually happens, and how we can help to keep the fireflies blinking in their search for love.

And Haley Lewis, culture and society editor at The Conversation in Ottawa, gives us some recommended reading about the 215 First Nations children found in a mass unmarked grave at a former residential school in British Columbia, Canada (36m10s).

Read more: No longer 'the disappeared': Mourning the 215 children found in graves at Kamloops Indian Residential School

The Conversation Weekly is produced by Mend Mariwany and Gemma Ware, with sound design by Eloise Stevens and Mau Loseto. Our theme music is by Neeta Sarl. You can find us on Twitter @TC_Audio, on Instagram at theconversationdotcom. or via email on You can also sign up to The Conversation’s free daily email here.

News clips in this episode are from France 24, Al Jazeera, Channel 4, CBC News, CNN, Democracy Now, AP News, The Telegraph and Salaam Times.

You can listen to The Conversation Weekly via any of the apps listed above, our RSS feed, or find out how else to listen here.

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