Iranians vote in elections as conservatives expected to dominate

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TEHRAN: Iranians voted on Friday (Mar 1) 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.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has called for a strong turnout, was the first to cast his ballot, at a polling station in central Tehran, state television reported.

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.

"Suppose that I vote: what would it change?" said a 21-year-old from western Kurdistan province who only gave her name as Hanna, out of fear of reprisals. "They (the elected officials) do not respect their promises."

Her comments were echoed by Hashem, a 32-year-old from the southwestern province of Khuzestan. "The problem with the elections is that people are not happy with this system because of the political and economic situation," he said.

Another voter, Moradiani from southern Tehran, said she would heed Khamenei's call to vote.

"The leader said that participating in the elections is an obligation," she said, "just as it is obligatory for us to pray."

Iran's last parliamentary elections in 2020 had a voter turnout of 42.57 per cent - the lowest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

CANDIDATES VETTED

Khamenei had on Friday appealed for people to vote, saying "onlookers from all over observe the affairs of our country; make (Iran's) friends happy and ill-wishers disappointed".

The supreme leader had previously warned that Iran's "enemies want to see if the people are present", adding that otherwise "they will threaten your security in one way or another".

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

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.

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