Tehran, Iran – Polls closed in Iran’s 11th parliamentary election, seen as a test for the popularity of President Hassan Rouhani‘s reformist-moderate camp as hardliners were expected to make gains.
Elections for Iran’s 290-member parliament were set amid escalating political tensions, economic struggles, and concerns about low participation. The spectre of the coronavirus infection that has killed at least four people in the country also added another layer of uncertainty to the electoral process.
The vote also took place as the world’s top anti-terrorism monitoring group, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), voted to keep Iran on its blacklist for failing to tackle “terrorism” financing.
Voters on Friday also chose replacements for seven deceased members of the Assembly of Experts, a clerical body responsible for appointing the supreme leader.
As of 3pm local time (11:30 GMT), 11 million of nearly 58 million people eligible to vote had taken part in the election, according to the Ministry of Interior, which did not provide further updates.
The vote took place on preselected lists of candidates that represent more than 250 registered parties.
A total of 55,000 polling stations were opened at mosques and schools throughout the country. More than 7,000 candidates, including at least 666 women, were competing.
Iran: Thousands of candidates disqualified ahead of elections
Long queues could be seen at the main polling station set up at Masjid al-Nabi, the main mosque in the middle-class Narmak neighbourhood where former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lives.
Throughout the capital Tehran, other hubs for the conservative camp, also known as the principlists, were teaming with voters for several hours of the day.
Meanwhile, stations in other areas including parts of northern Tehran, a support base for the reformists, remained empty throughout most of the day.
Polls were expected to close at 6pm (14:30 GMT) but were extended several times. During the previous parliamentary elections in 2016, voting was extended because of the high turnout.
A spokesman for the Guardian Council, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, said in a statement that 200,000 supervisors from the council oversaw the polls throughout the country.
On the eve of the election, the United States imposed sanctions on five senior Iranian officials for allegedly preventing fair-and-free elections in Iran, the US Department of the Treasury said on Thursday. The blacklisted officials included Secretary of Iran’s Guardian Council Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati and its spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei.
During the day, several voters told Al Jazeera they considered participation in the vote a national duty as the vote was the first parliamentary election since the US withdrew from the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers in 2018, and reimposed sanctions against Tehran, including on its oil and banking sectors.
The financial measures put Iran’s economy into a tailspin with inflation reaching 33.5 percent.
In addition to the deteriorating economy, the vote came after a series of national crises including a deadly crackdown by security forces on tens of thousands of people protesting against fuel price rises in November and the military’s shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner on January 8 that killed all 176 people on board, mostly Iranians.
Ahmad Torkashavan, 55, a former Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) soldier who participated in the Iran-Iraq war at the age of 14 and then joined the Revolutionary Guard afterwards, said: “I feel it is a national duty to [vote], despite the difficult economic conditions that have discouraged some people.”
Tahereh Dervishi, 68, agreed: “Voting is a national and religious duty.
“I voted for my country and our martyrs including Qassem Soleimani. We need a stronger parliament to fight our enemies, the US and Israel,” she added.
The elections come after the Iranian General Soleimani, former leader of the Revolutionary Guard, was assassinated in a US drone strike near Baghdad’s airport on January 3.
“This vote is very important for our nation and its national interests against our enemies in the EU – France, the UK and Germany – as well as the United States,” Ali Javanrodi, a 35-year-old civil servant, told Al Jazeera.
“I am voting for candidates who will resist our enemies and unite our nation,” he said.
The reformist and moderate bloc won a parliamentary majority in 2016 on the back of a landmark deal negotiated between Tehran and world powers that offered the country relief from global sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.
Iran elections: Voter apathy
But the political current has since shifted, a situation further compounded by mass disqualifications of reformist candidates by the Guardian Council ahead of the election.
The disqualification was sharply criticised by President Hassan Rouhani and supporters of the reformist camp, many of whom said they would boycott the vote.
According to Abas Aslani, a visiting scholar at the Center for Middle East Strategic Studies, if voter turnout proves to be lower than in previous elections, it would mean a stronger conservative presence in parliament and on Rouhani in the coming year ahead of the presidential vote.
The election was seen by many observers as competition between conservatives supporting Tehran’s former mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, who backed the 2015 nuclear deal, and ultra-conservatives who rejected it.
According to Zohre Nosrat Kharazmi, an assistant professor of American Studies at the University of Tehran, “If the principlists gain a majority in parliament it means that Iran’s foreign policy will involve more escalation with the US.
“The principalists would not support any more negotiations and renegotiations with the West,” she added.
Political commentator Mohammed Hashemi agreed. “It is safe to say that Iran’s 11th parliament will be under the control of conservatives, which will likely mean tougher years for Rouhani and lead to rising tensions in Iran’s internal and international politics,” he said.
“The new parliament will be comprised of parliamentarians who have mostly taken blatant positions against the 2015 nuclear deal,” he added.
All ballots are counted manually, delaying official results for up to two or three days after the vote, especially in larger cities.
On Saturday morning, the interior ministry will start releasing results for smaller constituencies.
The ministry of interior will also make an announcement about the voter turnout when all votes are counted.
For candidates who do not manage to get at least 20 percent of the votes cast, their parliament seats will need a second round of votes, likely to be held on April 17.
Final results will come in early next week, which will be approved by the Guardian Council. Those results will be released about two weeks later.
Also known as the Majlis, Iran’s parliament is responsible for passing legislation in the country, approving the annual budget and ratifying international agreements and treaties.
All legislation passed by the Majlis is then approved by the Guardian Council and the president.
The parliament has a limited say in foreign affairs, although it played a crucial role in some of the country’s pivotal moments, including in 2015, when it approved the nuclear deal with world powers. The Majlis plays a bigger role in economic and other domestic politics.