Iranians voted yesterday in a parliamentary election likely to reinforce Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s power over rival hardliners led by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Iranian leaders were looking for a high turnout to ease an acute crisis of legitimacy caused by Ahmadinejad’s re-election in 2009, when widespread accusations of fraud plunged the Islamic Republic into the worst unrest of its 33-year history.
Iran also faces economic turmoil compounded by Western sanctions over a nuclear program that has prompted threats of military action by Israel, whose leader meets US President Barack Obama in the White House on Monday.
The vote in Iran is only a limited test of political opinion, since leading reformist groups stayed out what became a contest between the Khamenei and Ahmadinejad camps.
“Whenever there has been more enmity towards Iran, the importance of the elections has been greater,” Khamenei, 72, said after casting his vote before TV cameras. “The arrogant powers are bullying us to maintain their prestige. A high turnout will be better for our nation ... and for preserving security.”
The vote will have scant impact on Iran’s foreign or nuclear policies, in which Khamenei already has the final say, but could strengthen the Supreme Leader’s hand before the presidential vote next year. Ahmadinejad, 56, cannot run for a third term.
Iranians may be preoccupied with sharply rising prices and jobs, but it is Iran’s supposed nuclear ambitions that worry the outside world. Western sanctions over the nuclear program have hit imports, driving prices up and squeezing ordinary Iranians.
Just days away from the talks between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, their aides were scrambling to bridge differences over what Washington fears could be a premature Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear sites.
Netanyahu will press Obama, who is facing a presidential election campaign, to stress publicly the nuclear “red lines” that Iran must not cross, Israeli officials say.
Global oil prices have spiked to 10-month highs on tensions between the West and Iran, OPEC’s second-biggest crude producer.
The election took place without two main opposition leaders. Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, who both ran for president in 2009, have been under house arrest for more than a year.
No independent observers are on hand to monitor the voting or check the turnout figures that officials will announce.
Former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani made a pointed reference to the outcome of the 2009 vote, which he questioned at the time.
“If the election outcome turns out to be what the people cast in the ballot boxes, God willing we will have a good parliament,” the elder statesman said after voting in Tehran.