Protesters in Toronto rally against an Iranian election they call a 'sham'

Dozens of Toronto residents protested against the Iranian presidential election on Friday, calling it a "sham" and showing solidarity with the many Iranians who boycotted the polls.

'People have spoken by not showing up at the polling station,' protester says

A woman dons a raincoat and chants during the North York, Ont., demonstration on Friday, June 18, 2021, in spite of the rain. (Sam Nar/CBC)

Dozens of people protested in Toronto on Friday against the Iranian presidential election, calling it a "sham" and supporting the many Iranians who boycotted the polls.

Chanting in the rain at Mel Lastman Square, the demonstrators demanded regime change in Iran. The final results are expected to be announced by Saturday.

"We are showing our solidarity with the brave Iranian people who have shown their courageous act today by boycotting this sham election in Iran," said Hamid Gharajeh, with the Iran Democratic Association of Canada.

The polls opened in Iran on Friday, but many eligible voters appeared to stay home amid an election that many observers believe is rigged in favour of Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Opinion polls suggest turnout could be as low as 44 per cent — well below the 73.3 per cent of eligible voters who cast ballots in 2017.

"People have spoken by not showing up at the polling station," said Gharajeh at the Toronto demonstration.

Simin Voorchi, one of the protesters, said showing up for the rally was, "our duty."

"This is not an election, this is a selection," she said.

A woman chants during the North York, Ont., demonstration on Friday, protesting the election in Iran. (Sam Nar/CBC)

The election was dominated by Raisi after the disqualification of his strongest competition.

Raisi, who already is under U.S. sanctions, was the front-runner in a field of only four candidates

The disqualifications fuelled apathy that left some polling places largely empty on voting day, despite pleas to support the Islamic Republic at the ballot box.

About 40 people showed up for the rally in North York on Friday. (Sam Nar/CBC)

Voter apathy also has been fed by the devastated state of the economy and subdued campaigning amid months of surging novel coronavirus cases.

"The regime has completely dropped any pretence of democracy, of freedom of vote," said Toronto-based activist and scholar Maral Karimi, author of The Iranian Green Movement of 2009: Reverberating Echoes of Resistance.

"They have basically gone and introduced a few handpicked candidates that are closer to the house of supreme leadership."

Protesters chanted in the rain on Friday, rallying against the Iranian election. (Sam Nar/CBC)

If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office over his alleged involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran's internationally criticized judiciary.

Karimi said another "turning moment" in the Iranian psyche was the violent crackdown on protesters in 2019 that killed as many as 1,500 people, according to Reuters.

Speaking to CBC News at the rally, Gharajeh said they "want this entire apparatus of this regime to be demolished and overthrown."

"People in Iran don't feel like they have a choice anymore," said Karimi of the election. "This election that the so-called president has pushed on them. So they're pushing back in a very peaceful and civilized manner."

"They refuse to legitimize the regime even further."

Demonstrators called the Iranian election a 'sham' and called for regime change. (Jessica Cheung/CBC)

Written by Laura Howells, with files from Jessica Cheung, the Associated Press and Reuters