Iranians living in Canada eager to cast ballots in Friday’s all-important presidential election were forced to cross the border to vote in the U.S., or not vote at all.
Canada and Iran severed diplomatic relations in 2012 under the Harper government, and Iran still has no official diplomatic presence in Canada – such as an embassy – where Iranians can vote.
In the U.S., Iranians have 55 polling stations where they can cast ballots. More than 300 voting locations were established in other countries in anticipation of the election day.
The discrepancy prompted Iranian nationals living in Canada to head to the U.S. by the carload. Arash Abadpour made the trip Friday from Toronto to Buffalo, N.Y.
“We are Iranian citizens, and participating in elections is a right for us. It’s important for us to be part of the political process in Iran, and all of us have ambitions for improving the situation in Iran,” Abadpour told CTV News Channel on Friday.
According to a Globe and Mail report, Iranian officials asked Ottawa in April to allow polling stations to be set up for the May 19 election. However, the federal government reportedly denied the request because it came too late and because there was no appropriate place to hold the vote, the Globe wrote.
Many voters at the New York polling booth had to take the day off work to cast their ballots. At the border crossing between Niagara Falls, Ont. and Buffalo, cars were bumper-to-bumper with keen voters heading stateside.
Abadpour called the lack of voting stations in Canada “unacceptable.”
“We want to be able to cast our votes in our own country and not have to take a day off work and travel this distance in order to be able to exercise that right,” he said.
Voters will decide between four candidates, but only two are considered front-runners: incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, who signed the 2015 nuclear agreement with the West and is considered a moderate in Iran, and hard-line former prosecutor Ebrahim Raisi.
Abadpour said he intended to cast his vote based upon which candidate won the support of friends and family living in Iran.
“They are passionate that the last four years have been steps forward, toward a more functioning democracy in Iran … and improvements in the rights of Iranian citizens,” he said. “My understanding is that something good is happening there, and I want to be a force in that direction.”
In Iran, election officials had to extend voting hours at least three times to accommodate the surge of voters. More than 63,000 locations were established to allow citizens to cast their ballots.
Officials have said they expect voter turnout will surpass 70 per cent. More than 54 million people are eligible to vote.
With files from The Associated Press