Mon, 30 Mar 2020

Hard-Liners Expected to Win Iranian Elections

Voice of America
23 Feb 2020, 23:35 GMT+10

Iranians awaited final figures from parliamentary elections, but few doubted that conservatives and hard-liners would be the landslide winners in the vote marked by unusually low turnout.

Prior to the February 21 vote, thousands of reformists and relative moderates were disqualified by hard-line election officials, leaving little doubt as to the eventual victors.

The National Elections Committee said on Saturday that it had counted votes in 71 out of 208 constituencies across Iran.

Esmail Musavi, a spokesman for the committee, said electoral authorities would "try to publish the final figures tonight, and if that task takes too long, tomorrow [February 23]."

In constituencies where candidates failed to get 20 percent of votes cast, a runoff election will be held in April.

The Interior Ministry said that conservative candidates led by Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf were leading in the races for Tehran's 30 parliamentary seats.

Qalibaf, a former Tehran mayor and air force commander within the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), is seen as a prime candidate to become the next parliament speaker.

Media affiliated with conservatives and hard-liners projected a sweeping victory for their candidates.

The semiofficial Fars news agency, which is affiliated with the IRGC, claimed the outcome from 183 out of the 290 seats in parliament had been decided, saying that conservative candidates would win 135 seats, while reformists were set to secure 20 seats and independents 28.

In the 2016 vote, a bloc of reformists and moderate conservatives won 41 percent of the 290 parliamentary seats. Hard-liners won 29 percent and independents took 28 percent.

All of those standing for election were prescreened by a group of hard-line Islamic clerics in the Guardians Council, who cleared 7,148 candidacies and disqualified some 9,000 potential candidates.

Ninety members of Iran's outgoing parliament were among those who were rejected. Many were moderates or reformist lawmakers who support engagement with the West.

Because of the disqualifications, turnout was expected to be lower than usual despite pleas by Iranian leaders for citizens to head to the polls.

The Interior Ministry, which oversaw the election, did not release the turnout, but there were indications that voter participation was unusually low.

Authorities three times extended voting by a total of five hours to allow more people to cast ballots. VOA reported that dozens of video reports purportedly showing nearly empty polling stations were being posted to social media. Germany's dpa news agency quoted locals in Tehran as saying many polling stations were empty.

Fars news agency estimated turnout at 40 percent nationwide and 30 percent in Tehran.

Britain's Guardian newspaper put the turnout in Tehran at 20-25 percent.

Before the vote, authorities had predicted a turnout of about 50 percent, compared with 62 percent in the 2016 parliamentary elections.

Iranian Leaders React After Apparent Popular Boycott of Parliamentary Election Observers say turnout was extremely low while officials are said to be promoting inflated vote counts

On February 23, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appeared to confirm suspicions that fewer voters had turned out than anticipated, as he blamed enemy "propaganda" for amplifying the threat of the coronavirus, in an effort to dissuade people from voting."

Their media did not ignore the tiniest opportunity for discouraging people and resorting to the pretext of diseases and the virus," Khamenei said in remarks from his office in Tehran.

Iran reported its first case of the virus on February 19, two days before the national polls. Since then, a total of six deaths have been reported -- the highest death toll from the virus outside of China, where the outbreak first emerged a couple months ago.

Observers had said turnout could be affected by announcements from health officials of several infections and deaths related to the coronavirus.

The elections were seen as a test of the popularity of the conservative clerical establishment, coming at a time of public anger over official corruption, Iran's worsening economy, and Tehran's handling of the downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet by Iranian air defenses that killed all 176 people on board.

Many activists, including some political prisoners, had called on voters to boycott the elections in protest of what they say is "engineering the elections" and the harsh suppression of protesters in November and January.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized the election as a "sham" and a vote that "is not free or fair." Washington on February 20 imposed sanctions on five members of Iran's Guardians Council and its Elections Supervision Committee, accusing them of rigging the election.

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