Polls close after voting time extended in crucial Iran elections
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Polling stations closed in Iran late on Friday after voting was extended several times to let a large turnout of people cast ballots in elections for parliament and the Assembly of Experts, state TV reported.
Iranians voted to elect new members of the 290-seat Majlis, or parliament, as well as the Assembly of Experts comprised of 88 Islamic scholars.
The elections are being viewed as a critical test of President Hassan Rohani’s policies, particularly the nuclear deal that opened up the Islamic Republic to the international community.
Reporting from Tehran, FRANCE 24’s Sanam Shantyaei said the polls this year are generating “more interest than some of the previous elections because the stakes are extremely high. This is the first election Iran is having since the implementation of its historic nuclear deal with the world powers. It’s certainly a test of the support and the popularity of Iran’s more moderate President Hassan Rohani and it’s also an opportunity for him to garner more support in the country’s parliament, Majlis, which is currently dominated by the conservatives, which have been opposed to his policies from the very outset.”
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei cast his ballot at a Tehran polling station Friday and urged Iranians to vote in high numbers. "I call on our nation to cast their votes early,” he told reporters after voting. “They should choose their candidates wisely... a big turnout will disappoint Iran's enemies."
State TV showed long lines at polling stations before polls opened at 8am local time (4:30am GMT). Polling stations were originally scheduled to close at 6pm local time but stayed open until 11.45pm (8.15pm GMT), more than five hours after the scheduled closing time of 6pm (2.30pm GMT). Such extensions are common in Iranian elections. .
Power balance between conservatives and reformists
All eyes have been focused on the turnout, with most analysts agreeing that high voter turnouts in Iranian elections tend to favour reformist candidates.
The reformist camp is hoping the power equation in the Majlis could swing in their favour despite a tight vetting process that saw many reformist candidates barred from standing for office.
Under Iranian law, the Guardian Council – a powerful group comprising 12 members – approves candidates for both the Majlis and Assembly of Experts elections.
The Guardian Council rejected nearly half of this year's 12,000 applicants for the Majlis race, with 6,200 candidates vying for seats in the country’s unicameral parliament.
In the Assembly of Experts race, only 166 of the 801 candidates were approved.
Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iranian elections have exposed the fundamental tensions between elected officials and religious authorities with absolute power. Those tensions rise to the fore in the Majlis election, which determines the composition of conservatives and reformists in parliament, a balance of power that dominates Iranian politics.
Despite the power vested in the conservative establishment – including the Guardian Council, the Islamic judiciary and the Supreme Leader – Iranian politics tend to be fluid and pragmatic with candidates capable of crossing the conservative-reformist line.
A body that could replace Khamenei
While the Majlis election could change the dynamic in parliamentary politics, the Assembly of Experts vote this year has uncharacteristically attracted more attention.
Members of the Assembly of Experts serve eight-year terms, making it likely that the body of clerics could select a new Supreme Leader to replace the ailing 76-year-old Khamenei.
Days before the election, Rohani released the names of 16 candidates for the Assembly of Experts – including influential former president Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani – who have formed a bloc calling themselves the "Friends of Moderation".
Speaking to reporters after casting his ballot on Friday, Rafsanjani said a failure by reformists in Friday’s elections would be “a major loss for the Iranian nation”.