First Published: 2004-02-19

Iran's reformers boost poll boycott with SMS

'The ballot box will be the coffin of democracy, we will not participate in the funeral of democracy' reads cell phone message.


Middle East Online

By Farhad Pouladi - TEHRAN

Friday we stay home. It will be a referendum to say 'no', reads another SMS

Cell phones have become the latest battlefield in Iran's parliamentary elections with a brisk traffic in electronic messages urging voters to boycott Friday's controversial polls or turn out massively.

If reformers are divided on how to respond to the disqualification of most of their candidates from the election, they have found a common medium to get their ideas across - the Short Messaging System (SMS).

"The ballot box will be the coffin of democracy, we will not participate in the funeral of democracy" read a note that popped up on one cell phone here via SMS. "Send this message to five other people.

Another message carried a clear reference to a drive by dissidents to keep the turnout low Friday as a message to the ruling conservative clergy after the disqualification of most reformist candidates.

"Friday we stay home. It will be a referendum to say 'no.'"

But a group called the "Coalition for Iran," which brings together eight reformist parties, has gone on the SMS counterattack with an appeal to "Go and vote massively Friday" as a slap at the election refuseniks.

The political exhortations are sent by computers equipped with software that can send the same message to several cell phone numbers. The tactic is not without risk.

"You have to pay attention with calls for a boycott because all the messages go through Iranian telecommunications, which can monitor them," according to one local journalist, who asked not to be named.

SMS became available here a few months ago and has been an instant hit in a country where weak cell phone networks make traditional voice communications frequently exasperating.

Iranians can automatically re-dial the same call 10 times, with a digital voice unflaggingly advising for the first nine that "all routes are busy" or "no response to paging."

With SMS, you leave a trace at least each time. Iranian telecommunications also makes good use of the system to send messages of congratulations or condolences for all religious occasions.


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