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Partial Iran Election Results Show Low Turnout, Specially In Tehran

Coronavirus concerns In Iran Amid Elections. February 21, 2020
Coronavirus concerns In Iran Amid Elections. February 21, 2020

The Iranian Interior Ministry is gradually releasing figures about votes cast in the parliamentary election of February 21.

The figures announced by Islamic Republic officials show former conservative mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf won 1,265,000 votes, the highest in Tehran.The leading winner of the previous round of the Majles election in 2016, reformist Mohammad Reza Aref had won 1,608,926 votes out of a total of 3,247,000 votes cast in Tehran.

These figures indicate a lower turnout compared with four years ago. Still, it is not possible to verify these numbers, given lack of election transparency in Iran. In other words, turnout could have been even less.

The total number of votes cast in the capital on Friday has still not been announced, although ISNA reported Sunday morning that over 24 million Iranians took part in the elections and the overall turnout has been 42.57 percent. This comes while figures for some constituencies have not been announced.

In the previous round of the Majles elections in 2016 the turnout was around 62 percent with over 34 million voters taking part.

In 2016 all the 30 Reformist candidates who won the election in Tehran won more than one million votes. In this year's election, it is only Qalibaf who won more than one million votes and the person immediately behind him, Mostafa Mirsalim won just over 890,000 votes. The 30th candidate in 2016 Abdolreza Hashemzai won 1,079,000 votes, while this year's 30th candidate Zohreh Lajevardi won only 714,931 votes.

This comes while anecdotal accounts of the turnout on social media have questioned the hidden numbers behind a Fars news agency report that says Qalibaf has won 72 percent of the votes cast in Tehran. Last time Aref had received nearly 400,000 more votes and that was just 49 percent of ballots. If by getting less votes Qalibaf received 72 percent, it means turnout was much lower.

In the absence of official statistics Fars has announced the overall turnout for the whole country as 42 percent, but turnout in Tehran is generally believed to be lower and that is possibly the reason why the government has delayed the announcement of vote numbers. But even accepting the 42 percent turnout for Tehran, Qalibaf's 72 percent win would not compare to the last round's victory.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday foreign media reports about the spread of Coronavirus was an attempt to dissuade people from voting. Putting the blame on coronavirus and foreign actors was widely expected by observers and social media users.

Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli disclosed on Sunday that officials were aware of the spread of Coronavirus, but some of them suggested to put an embargo on the news until the end of the elections, ISNA reported, adding that Rouhani was against keeping the news of the contagion a secret.

Fazli also said some officials in Qom where the disease has claimed more lives insisted to delay the election, but as interior minister he refused to delay the vote.

An AP report on Sunday noted that "Officials have still not released any figures for voter turnout, which is widely seen as a measure of how Iranians view the country's embattled theocratic government. Iranian officials usually release turnout figures a day after elections."

Although there are conflicting reports about the turnout in Tehran, the latest figures announced an hour after the scheduled end of voting in Friday put the turnout figure for the capital city just above 18 percent. However, voting hours were extended later, so more people could have cast their ballots.

Analysts in Iran and abroad say one of the main reasons for the low turnout in Tehran was the public disillusionment following major events such the November unrest that claimed up to 1,500 lives and the downing of a Ukrainian airliner which claimed 176 lives. In both cases the public seems to have been deeply annoyed by lack of transparency on the part of the government.

Meanwhile, widespread disqualification of reformist candidates by the hardliner-dominated Guardian Council may have dissuaded many others from voting.

Public concern over the spread of coronavirus and the government's initial denial of the problem may have also contributed to the low turnout. Iran's state TV started broadcasting news about the contagion only Sunday morning, offering advice to improve the situation of public health.

Nevertheless, some TV presenters have been observed to play down the threat of Coronavirus regardless of the new policy.