Friday’s vote is being seen as a referendum on the clerical establishment’s popularity although the odds are stacked in its favour as the Guardian Council vetting body has rejected 6,850 moderate or conservative hopefuls in favour of hardliners from among the 14,000 applicants. About a third of sitting MPs have also been barred from standing again. And due to the large number of disqualified candidates, hardliners loyal to the Ayatollah are likely to dominate the 290-seat parliament.
The election will neutralise American’s ill intentions. The vote is the Islamic Republic’s prestige
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
But faced with little choice and with Iran facing growing isolation and threats of conflict over its nuclear standoff with Washington and growing discontent at home, the size of the turnout will be seen as a referendum on the establishment.
The Ayatollah said: “Today, voting is not only a revolutionary and national responsibility, but it is also a religious duty.”
The election will have no major influence on foreign affairs or Iran’s nuclear policy, which is determined by Ayatollah Khamenei.
The final authority in Iran’s complex system of clerical rule and limited democracy, he has backed the Guardian Council and said the next parliament was no place for those scared of speaking out against foreign enemies.
He said: ”Elections are a means to strengthen the country
“A weak parliament will have long-term affects. A weak parliament will negatively affect our fight against enemies.
“The election will neutralise American’s ill intentions. The vote is the Islamic Republic’s prestige.”
Tensions have been high between Iran and the United States since 2018 when Donald Trump pulled the US out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers and reimposed sanctions that have battered the country’s economy.
In retaliation, Iran has gradually rolled back its commitments under the deal.
Tehran says its steps are reversible if European parties to the agreement fulfil their promises of shielding Iran’s economy from US penalties.
Pro-reform voters are dismayed by disarray in their camp and the failure of pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani to abide by an election pledge to ease social and political restrictions.
A parliament dominated by hardliners could increase pressure on Mr Rouhani, the architect of the nuclear pact, whose performance in power has been criticised by Ayatollah Khamenei’s influential allies.
Campaigning ends on Thursday on the eve of the vote for which 58 million Iranians are eligible to vote out of a population of 83 million.
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Many Iranians are furious over the handling of November protests against fuel price hikes which swiftly turned political with demonstrators calling for “regime change”, leading to the bloodiest unrest in the history of the Islamic Republic.
A crackdown overseen by the Revolutionary Guards killed hundreds and led to the arrest of thousands, according to human rights organisations.
The public is also livid over the accidental shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger plane in January that killed all 176 people on board, mainly Iranians.
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