TEHRAN: Iran extended voting for a second time on Friday in an election expected to see conservatives loyal to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei cementing their grip on power as the country faces mounting US pressure over its nuclear programme.
The 11th parliamentary election since the 1979 Islamic Revolution comes after a surge in tensions between Tehran and Washington, and Iran’s accidental downing of a Ukrainian airliner that sparked anti-government protests.
As he cast the first ballot in the election, Iran’s Supreme Leader urged all Iranians to take part, saying that doing so would “guarantee the country’s national interests”.
Voters formed long queues in the morning at polling stations in south of Tehran, where conservatives have a solid support base. Far fewer were seen waiting to vote in upmarket northern neighbourhoods.
Fars news agency said the official turnout figure would be released on Saturday.
Authorities extended voting for two hours to allow more people to vote, before prolonging it by another two hours to 10:00 pm (1830 GMT).
State television showed images from more than 20 cities and towns of people still queued up to vote while announcing the second extension. The election coincided with an outbreak of the new coronavirus that the authorities say has killed four people in the Islamic republic this week.
Iran fell into a deep recession after US President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions following Washington’s unilateral withdrawal from a landmark nuclear deal in 2018.
Amir Bahador Marzpour, a humanities student in Tehran, was one of the many who shunned the election.
“I didn’t vote because politicians make promises they don’t keep,” the 18-year-old said, voicing concern about runaway inflation.
“There are no jobs for young people, and when we finish our studies we won’t have jobs.” Around half of the 16,033 hopefuls in the election were barred by the powerful Guardian Council, most of them reformists.
Iran’s president, who has come under fire over the sluggish economy, took another hit on Friday as a multinational terrorism financing watchdog reinstated sanctions on the country.
According to the interior ministry, turnout has always been higher than 50 per cent in the 10 previous legislative elections.
Many voters voiced disillusionment.
Real estate worker Alireza Hashemi, 25, criticised Rouhani’s government.
“After we elected Rouhani everything collapsed. He signed a very bad (nuclear) deal and looked to the West without any real guarantees,” he said.
But for Mohsen Jallali, the elections were “completely fair... There was a problem with the candidates who were rejected,” he said.
Published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2020