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Reformists make early gains as Iran awaits vote results

© Behrouz Mehri, AFP | An Iranian cleric casts his ballot in a box designated for the Assembly of Experts at a polling station in the Iranian holy city of Qom on February 26, 2016.

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-02-27

Early vote results show President Hassan Rohani and reformist former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani leading a contest for membership on Iran's influential Assembly of Experts, the official IRNA news agency reported Saturday.

The elections for parliament and a leadership body called the Assembly of Experts are seen by some analysts as a potential turning point that could shape the future for the next generation, in a country where nearly 60 percent of the 80 million population is under 30.

Asked what would happen if reformists did not win, Rafsanjani told Reuters: "It will be a major loss for the Iranian nation."

"The competition is over and the phase of unity and cooperation has arrived," IRNA  quoted him as saying. "The time after elections is the time for hard work to build the country."

The elections were the first since Tehran agreed with major powers to curb its nuclear programme, leading to the removal of most of the stringent international sanctions that have paralysed the economy over the past decade.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who led nuclear talks with world powers, told Reuters while voting at the Jamaran mosque in northern Tehran that Iranians would continue to support policies that brought about the nuclear deal.

“The message to the international community from this election is the Iranians are solidly behind their government,” he said. “They will continue to support the policies that have been adopted leading to the conclusion and successful implementation of the nuclear deal and this will continue.”

A clear outcome may take days to emerge, although conservatives normally perform well in rural areas and young urbanites are seen as favouring more moderate candidates allied to Rohani.

In the capital Tehran, 13 out of the top 16 Assembly of Experts candidates were on a list supported by Rafsanjani, although some of them also had the support of conservatives.

Friday’s election turnout was heavy. Polling was extended five times for a total of almost six hours, because so many people wanted to vote.

Mousavi votes

Authorities had promised that all Iranians would be able to vote and on Friday opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi and his wife voted for the first time since being put under house arrest in 2011, an ally of Mousavi's told Reuters.

Among other voters at a polling station in Khorasan square, a working class neighbourhood in Tehran, Mahnaz Mehri, a 52-year-old mother of four, said she was voting for reformists because they had a better vision for the economy and foreign policy.

In Meydan Beheshti square, a mainly conservative neighborhood, Reza Ganjialilu, a 28-year-old employee at an electronics shop said he did not favour the reformists.

"I have a duty to my country. This group of people (conservatives) are the best. Our main concern is preserving our religion, ideology, not just the economy," he said.

Iran, which has the world's second-largest gas reserves, a diversified manufacturing base and an educated workforce, is seen by global investors as a huge emerging market opportunity, in everything from cars to airplanes and railways to retail.

Iran’s youth vote

For ordinary Iranians, the prospect of this kind of investment holds out the promise of a return to economic growth, better living standards and more jobs in the long run.

An opening to the world of this scale - and Rohani's popularity - have alarmed hardline allies of Khamenei, who fear losing control of the pace of change, as well as inroads into the lucrative economic interests they built up under sanctions.

Busy polling

Both camps appeared successful in getting supporters out to vote. Although extensions of voting are common in Iranian elections, many were surprised to see polling as busy Friday evening as it had been in the morning. State television said voting booths in other cities were still packed mid-evening.

Rohani wants to cash in on the popularity he gained from the nuclear deal to help his supporters wrest parliament from the hardliners who control it and possibly help him win a second presidential term in elections next year.

Although Iran's foreign policy is dictated by Khamenei, the outgoing conservative-dominated parliament strongly opposed making any meaningful concessions to the West during the nuclear negotiations and some lawmakers called Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif a "a traitor".

At stake is control of the 290-seat parliament and the 88-member Assembly of Experts, the body that has the power to appoint and dismiss the supreme leader. Like the parliament, the assembly is in the hands of hardliners.

During its next eight-year term it could name the successor to Khamenei, who is 76 and has been in power since 1989.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

IRAN'S POWER STRUCTURE

Date created : 2016-02-27

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