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Meet Zahra, The Fictional Candidate Running For President Of Iran
June 14, 2013
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Zahra, the virtual candidate (Image: Vote4Zahra.org)

The polls are open in Iran, and the presidential election is underway - but many international observers are questioning its legitimacy and whether there is any real difference between the candidates.

Of the six men running for the office, only one, Cleric Hassan Rowhani, is considered a moderate, but even he is not challenging the Islamic Republic's 34-year-old system of rule, EuroNews reports.

But there's another candidate in this election who's offering a real alternative, with a very different take on the issues.

Unlike the official candidates on the ballot, this candidate is a woman. Her name is Zahra and she's a work of fiction.

Vote 4 Zahra is a virtual campaign designed to challenge power in Iran and get people from all over the world involved.

"Zahra's running for office because there's no one else who's standing up for the people of Iran, for human rights, or for democracy," Iranian activist Firuzeh Mahmoudi told the BBC.

The character of Zahra first appeared in an online graphic novel called 'Zahra's Paradise', which was written and illustrated by Amir and Khalil.

The book tells the story of Zahra, a mother who loses her son in the 2009 protests in Iran. Zahra's Paradise is also the name of the largest cemetery in Tehran.

Two girls sit by gravestones in Behesht-e Zahra (Zahra's Paradise) cemetery in Tehran (Photo: Reuters)

With the election looming, Amir and Khalil decided to turn their fictional character into a presidential candidate, creating a website where people can "vote" for Zahra and take pictures of themselves with the message "I have the right to free and fair elections."

They also offer bracelets with the "Vote 4 Zahra" message written on them.

"Zahra is a candidate who's going to speak about issues that none of the candidates inside Iran dare to talk about," says Hadi Ghaemi, an activist. "A real person cannot be allowed to run in the election under such a platform."

Supporters of Zahra sent in photos of themselves to the website (Image: Vote4Zahra.org)

Amir, the author of 'Zahra's Paradise', says part of the point is to highlight that the regime in Iran can't control what people say and do online.

"The Islamic Republic is trying to restrict access to the internet in every way they can, but they haven't been able to," he told BBC. "For example, Sattar Behesti, a blogger, was recently killed, and we are getting YouTube videos of her mother's protests all over the world."

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei doesn't seem concerned with criticisms of the country's electoral process.

"Recently I have heard that a U.S. security official has said they do not accept this election. OK, the hell with you," he said today on Iran state television.

Khamenei has called for high turnouts at the polls as a way of responding to Western governments' concerns about the openness of the process.

As for the media's coverage, international journalists are not being allowed into the country - The National's Nahlah Ayed says her team's requests for visas to cover the election have gone unanswered.

And the American government has expressed concerns, with State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki saying the U.S. doesn't believe the Iranian election process is transparent.



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