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Iran heads to the polls, hardliners poised to tighten grip on power

Iranians are to vote Friday in elections for parliament and a key clerical body, amid fears of a low turnout and with conservatives expected to tighten their grip on power.

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Since the last elections, Iran has been badly affected by international sanctions that have led to an economic crisis. It has also been rocked by widespread protests and drawn into escalating regional tensions over the Israel-Hamas war.

More than 61 million people out of Iran’s 85-million population are eligible to vote for members of parliament as well as the clerics of the Assembly of Experts, the body in charge of selecting Iran’s supreme leader.

A low turnout is expected, however, after a state TV poll found more than half of respondents were indifferent about the elections.

The country’s last parliamentary elections in 2020 had a voter turnout of 42.57 percent — the lowest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has appealed for a strong turnout.

“It is important to show the world that the nation is mobilised,” said Khamenei on Wednesday on the last day of campaigning.

“The enemies of Iran want to see if the people are present,” he said, adding that otherwise “they will threaten your security in one way or another”.

Those watching included the United States “most of the Europeans, evil Zionists, capitalists and big companies”, he said.

Khamenei said the United States and Israel, which “carefully” follow Iran’s issues, “are afraid of the people’s participation in the elections”.

The head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Hossein Salami, said on Thursday that “every vote is like a missile that is fired into the heart of our strongest enemies”.

“If our people want to participate in a powerful political battle like in the past and overcome the enemies, they should come to the stage and vote.”

The IRGC, the ideological defenders of the Islamic republic, noted that “strong participation” would discourage “foreign interventions”.

Iran considers the United States, its Western allies and Israel “enemies” of the state and accuses them of seeking to intervene in its internal affairs.

‘Far from free’ 

Candidates for parliament are vetted by the Guardian Council, whose members are either appointed or approved by the supreme leader.

They have approved a total of 15,200 candidates, out of nearly 49,000 applicants, to run for seats in the 290-member parliament.

Conservatives and ultra-conservatives, who hold 232 out 290 seats in the 2020 parliament after reformist and moderate candidates were disqualified from running, are expected by analysts to dominate once again.

A coalition of parties called the Reform Front said it would not take part in “meaningless, non-competitive and ineffective elections”.

Former Iranian president, the reformist Mohammad Khatami, was quoted in February by the conservative Javan daily as saying that Iran was “very far from free and competitive elections”.

Conservatives are also expected to maintain a firm grip on the Assembly of Experts, an 88-member body exclusively made up of male Islamic scholars.

A total of 144 candidates are running but many hopefuls were disqualified, including former moderate president Hassan Rouhani.

Friday’s elections are the first since Iran was rocked by mass protests triggered by the September 2022 death in custody of Mahsa Amini.

Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, had been arrested for allegedly violating the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women.

Meanwhile, the Israel-Hamas war has sent tensions in the region soaring, with pro-Tehran groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen all involved in clashes with either Israel or its Western allies.

The elections also take place amid crippling international sanctions and mounting economic hardship in Iran, where inflation has hovered around 50 percent and the rial has sharply declined against the dollar.

“The prices are extremely high and continue to increase,” Masoumeh, a 40-year-old housewife, told AFP in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar.

“I don’t think that the representatives who will be elected will be able to improve this situation.”


This story originally appeared on France24

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