Iranians yesterday began voting in a parliamentary election likely to help religious rulers tighten their grip on power as the country faces mounting US pressure over its nuclear program and growing discontent at home.
With thousands of potential candidates disqualified in favor of hardliners loyal to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the vote is not expected to help the country’s relationship with the US.
Even though parliament does not wield significant power, gains by security hawks could weaken pragmatists and conservatives who back the ruling theocracy, but support more engagement with the outside world.
More hardline seats in the Islamic Consultative Assembly, or the Iranian Parliament, might also help them in next year’s contest for president, a job with wide day-to-day control of government.
Washington’s withdrawal in 2018 from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, and its reimposition of crippling sanctions, have hurt pragmatists who supported the pact.
Tensions between Iran and the US have increased dramatically since a US drone strike killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani at the Baghdad International Airport on Jan. 3.
Iran retaliated on Jan. 8 by attacking US targets in Iraq with domestically built ballistic missiles.
State television said that voting is set to run for 10 hours, with about 58 million Iranians eligible to vote for the representatives in the 290-member parliament.
The US Department of the Treasury has imposed sanctions on the members of the Iranian Guardian Council and its Elections Supervision Committee.
Khamenei was the first to cast his vote.
“Voting is a religious duty ... which will also guarantee the national interests of Iran,” Khamenei said after he voted. “I am urging Iranians to vote early.”
With Iran facing growing isolation on the global stage and discontent at home over economic hardships, analysts have said that the election is a referendum on the leaders’ handling of political and economic crises.
For Khamenei, a big turnout would signal to Washington that Iran is unbowed by sanctions and the killing of Soleimani.
The Guardian Council has ensured that hardliners dominate the field by removing 6,850 moderates and conservatives, and permitting voters a choice mostly between hardline and low-key conservative candidates loyal to Khamenei.
The authorities have been under pressure since last year when protests over a fuel price hike were met with the bloodiest crackdown since the 1979 Islamic revolution, killing hundreds.
“Each vote put into the ballot box, is a missile into the heart of America,” Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force Commander Amirali Hajizadeh said.
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