DUBAI Iranian state media touted a high turnout in Friday's parliamentary election, but many reformists took to cyberspace to criticise the vote as pointless and unrepresentative.
"If you remember two years ago we were asking 'where is my vote?' in the streets," reads one message between two Iranian bloggers, referring to protests that raged for eight months after a 2009 presidential poll the opposition said was rigged.
"I'll keep my vote safe at my own home this time and won't give it to these guys."
An opposition support says on Facebook: "The last time we voted, we were run over by a car."
With opposition parties banned and many reformist candidates barred from running or refusing to stand, the election is mostly a contest between rival hardliners who support President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Mehdi Karoubi and Mirhossein Mousavi, two opposition leaders who lost to Ahmadinejad in the 2009 election, have been under house arrest since February 2011 and their supporters have faced concerted government efforts to silence calls for their release.
In the run-up to Friday's poll, many pro-reform activists have been intimidated, prompting others to lie low.
Karoubi's website, Sahamnews.org , says: "Different pro-reform and opposition groups as well as the elders of the Green Movement and political prisoners have called on people to stay away from this sham election."
In contrast to Iranian state television, cyberspace reflects a wide range of views on Iran's political health.
"This is called a representative system," wrote an Iranian journalist who refuses to vote.
"Voting in a representative system means I have to choose someone to represent me there. When the law says that my ideas are not allowed there, voting is totally meaningless.
"In short this is like saying, 'Sorry dude, your ideas are not allowed and no one with your ideas can be in parliament, now please choose one of the people on this list'," the 30-year-old Tehran resident added.
"DUTY TO VOTE"
Critics of the tightly-controlled election have pointed to what they say is biased coverage by state media featuring voters saying it is their "duty to vote" to defeat Iran's enemies.
Officials have repeatedly urged the public to unite in the face of adversity. The state news agency quotes the head of Iran's Olympic committee, Mohammad Ali Abadi, as saying that every vote is "like an atomic bomb dropped on the enemy".
State media coverage has highlighted busy polling stations in large cities.
Fearing the security forces, opposition supporters have been unable to mount their own campaign. Instead, they make sporadic online calls urging people not to use their "bloodied" votes and to destroy campaign posters.
Many have posted messages online although social networking sites are blocked in Iran. The debate demonstrates the divide between Iranians hungry for change in the Islamic Republic and those who fear what reform would bring.
"No one is forced to vote," says Hassan in an online chatroom. "Those who feel they have to vote to keep their jobs are just cowardly and deserve this government."
An anonymous post says: "Although there's not much motivation, in most cities people are driven by trying to get someone from their own clan elected. So they participate despite being dissatisfied by the government and the regime.
Another says Iranians are voting because they aren't politically mature, contradicted by one that says people are voting because it's a referendum on an attack from America.
The government only wanted people to vote, not to make informed choices about their representatives in parliament, says a Tehran-based blogger who focuses on social issues.
"It was concerned about its acceptability and its legitimacy among the people. Today we cannot observe a large crowd of people taking part. The government's efforts had no results."
(Editing by Alistair Lyon)