Iran went to the polls yesterday for a general election that conservatives are expected to dominate amid voter apathy after an economic slump, multiple crises and the disqualification of thousands of candidates.
The 11th parliamentary election since the 1979 Islamic Revolution comes after steeply escalating tensions between Iran and the United States and the accidental downing of a Ukrainian airliner by Iranian air defences that sparked anti-government protests.
As he cast the first ballot in the election, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged all Iranians to take part, saying that doing so would “guarantee the country’s national interests”.
Voters formed long queues at polling stations in south Tehran, where conservatives have a solid support base, but far fewer were seen waiting to vote in upmarket northern neighbourhoods.
One official accused Iran’s enemies of overplaying an outbreak of the new coronavirus — which has killed four people in the Islamic republic this week — in a bid to harm the credibility of the election.
Experts predict a low turnout that they say will serve the conservatives at the expense of President Hassan Rouhani, who was re-elected in 2017 promising more freedoms and the benefits of engagement with the West.
Iran has been in deep recession since US President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions after unilaterally pulling out of a landmark nuclear deal in 2018.
After four hours of voting, more than 7.5 million of the 58 million people eligible to vote had done so, the interior ministry said.
Around half of the 16,033 hopefuls are contesting the 290 seats up for grabs across 31 provinces after the Guardian Council barred thousands of would-be candidates, mostly moderates and reformists.