Iranians vote in parliamentary election, hardliners set to cement grip

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei casts his vote at a polling station during parliamentary elections in Tehran, Iran February 21, 2020.Official Khamenei website/Handout via REUTERS

DUBAI (Reuters) – Hardliners loyal to Iran’s supreme leader are likely to sweep a parliamentary election on Friday that will cement their grip on power as the country faces mounting U.S. pressure over its nuclear program and growing discontent at home.

The vote will have no major influence on foreign affairs or Iran’s nuclear policy, which is determined by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But it might bolster hardliners in the 2021 contest for president and toughen Tehran’s foreign policy.

State television said voting officially ended in the parliamentary election at 2000 GMT after it was extended several times to allow late-comers to cast ballots. Such extensions are common in Iranian elections.

In mid-afternoon, an Interior Ministry official said that about 11 million of 58 million eligible voters had voted for candidates in the 290-member parliament. State TV said the turnout will be announced on Saturday.

Iranian authorities earlier forecast a turnout of about 50%, compared to 62% and 66% respectively in the 2016 and 2012 votes.

Disenchantment among many women and the young – who comprise a majority of voters – over high unemployment, soaring inflation and restrictions on personal freedoms in the Islamic Republic looked likely to depress the turnout.

Big gains by anti-Western security hawks loyal to Khamenei were in the offing after the mass disqualification of moderate and leading conservative figures by a hardline watchdog body, the Guardian Council.

A victory by acolytes of Khamenei in the election, seen as a referendum on the popularity of clerical rulers, could weaken pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani, who won the last two elections on promises to open Iran to the outside world.

The United States’ 2018 withdrawal from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, and its reimposition of sanctions, have hit Iran’s economy hard and led to widespread hardships.

A U.S. drone strike killed Iran’s most prominent military commander, General Qassem Soleimani, in Iraq on Jan. 3. Iran retaliated by firing ballistic missiles at U.S. targets in Iraq, killing no one but causing brain injuries in over 100 soldiers.

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