High turnout reported in Iran for parliamentary elections

March 2, 2012

Iranians voted Friday in parliamentary elections, the country’s first major ballot since the reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009 led to months of anti-government protests.

No disturbances are expected to follow the vote this time around. The key question Friday was how many of the more than 48 million eligible voters would go to the polls to elect 290 new legislators.

Late in the day, state TV reported a preliminary turnout of 64.5 percent, and voting was extended by five hours. While it was difficult to verify turnout, with no independent monitors on the ground, several polling stations in Tehran were receiving a constant stream of voters.

Results are expected Sunday for larger cities and Monday for rural areas.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was one of the first to cast his ballot Friday. State television quoted him as saying that a high turnout would “safeguard” Iran’s reputation and security.

In recent weeks, Iranian officials have increasingly linked the vote to Western sanctions and Israeli threats of war over the country’s controversial nuclear program. They initially warned that so-called Western enemies might plan fresh anti-government protests. When no protests materialized, they withdrew those warnings and lauded the “effectiveness” of the national security forces in stopping “Zionist paid spies” at the borders.

A security official told the semiofficial Mehr News Agency that 10 people arrested in recent days had been sent by Iran’s “enemies” to commit acts of sabotage during the elections.

“Threats like planting bombs have been prevented, but there might be more arrests before the end of the elections,” said Mohammad Taqi Baqeri, the head of the Tehran province electoral security committee.

Friday’s vote could focus attention on Iran’s domestic political rifts, which have turned these elections into a battle among conservatives who differ little ideologically but are split over whether to support Ahmadinejad.

One powerful group of hard-line clerics and Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders, united in a coalition called the Stability Front, is calling for more influence for those “elected by God.”

Members of the opposition reform movement were largely absent from the vote. Some politicians close to the reformists were allowed to participate but many high-ranking opposition politicians have been jailed or purged.

In a sign of lingering discontent among officials purged after the 2009 disturbances, a former Iranian president urged fair elections after casting his ballot Friday.

“God willing, the results of the election will be what people have voted for and what they want. In that case, God willing, we will have a good Majlis [parliament],” said Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who has been sidelined by the Iranian leadership since he supported street protests against Ahmadinejad’s reelection.

At a polling station near the Enghelab (Revolution) Square, civil servant Mohammad Goudarzi said he had come to elect those who would solve problems such as high inflation, foreign currency prices and unemployment.

“If I don’t vote and others don’t, then who will decide for us?” he said.

Others said they were voting to make a statement to higher powers.

“I don’t know any candidate, but my goal is making God happy. The United States and Israel are God’s enemies, so by voting I’ll make them sad and God happy,” said Zahra, 25, a university student, who did not give her last name.

Special correspondents Somaye Malekian and Ramtin Rastin contributed to this report.

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