Iran counts ballots in vote seen favoring conservatives

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Iran began counting ballots on Saturday after a vote for parliament and a key clerical body, with local media estimating a low turnout and conservatives expected to dominate.

Friday’s elections were the first since widespread protests triggered by the September 2022 death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, 22, an Iranian Kurd. She had been arrested for allegedly violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code for women.

Iran has also been badly affected by international sanctions that have led to an economic crisis since the last elections in 2020.

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State TV reported early Saturday the “start of vote counting” after polling stations closed at midnight. Voting hours had been extended several times during the day, the official IRNA news agency reported.

A record figure of 15,200 hopefuls were competing for seats in the 290-member parliament. Another 144 candidates sought a place in the 88-member Assembly of Experts, which is exclusively made up of male Islamic scholars.

The Assembly selects or, if necessary, dismisses Iran’s supreme leader. Many potential candidates for the chamber were disqualified.

Local Fars news agency estimated turnout at “more than 40 percent,” among 61 million eligible voters.

President Ebrahim Raisi welcomed the voters’ “enthusiastic” participation as “another historic failure to (Iran’s) enemies,” according to IRNA.

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.

Reformist daily Ham Mihan ran an opinion piece titled “The Silent Majority,” which said turnout was “estimated to be lower than” in previous elections.

Iran’s 2020 parliament was elected during the COVID-19 pandemic with a turnout of 42.57 percent - the lowest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

A state TV poll had found more than half of respondents were indifferent about this year’s elections.

Candidates for parliament are vetted by a body, the Guardian Council, whose members are determined by the supreme leader.

The present parliament is dominated by conservatives and ultra-conservatives, and analysts expected a similar makeup in the new assembly.

Despite Supreme leader Ali Khamenei’s appeal for people to cast ballots, many Iranians were split on whether or not to do so.

Former reformist President Mohammad Khatami was among people who avoided the poll, according to a coalition of parties called the Reform Front.

In February the conservative Javan daily quoted Khatami as saying Iran is “very far from free and competitive elections.”

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