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Polls Extended For Two More Hours In Iran Parliamentary Elections

Voters' queue at the Shrine of Masoumeh in Qom, the religious capital of Iran. February 21, 2020

Iran's Parliamentary elections, already extended for two hours, have been extended for two more hours in what appears to be a low-turnout election. Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has called for "massive turnout to frustrate America".

Reporting the extension of polling hours (until 10 pm) in a tweet, Fars News Agency also quoted Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli as saying that the participation rate in this election will be announced on Saturday.

The polls are being held a day after two coronavirus deaths were reported in the country. The official death toll rose to four today.

Polling stations opened at 8:00 am throughout the country and with the two-hour extension are expected to close 8:00 pm local time.

Voters in this election will be choosing from over 7,000 candidates for the 290 seats of the Iranian Parliament, the Majles. But around 9,000 other candidates were barred from running by the hardliner-controlled Guardian Council, which vets candidates.

Also, disqualification of well-known candidates, coupled with unprecedented government use of force against protesters in November and downing a Ukrainian airliner in January have led to public anger, disillusionment and anticipation of low turnout.

Iranian officials have been saying that high voter turnout in the elections will prove the ineffectiveness of U.S. policies toward Iran. Nearly 60 million Iranians are eligible to vote in this election.

According to ّInterior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli between 7.5 to 7.7 million Iranians voted in the first four hours of the election. Rahmani-Fazli also claimed the participation rate so far was "same as in previous elections".

In the same period 715,000 voters cast their ballots in Tehran Province, the Governor of Tehran, Anoushirvan Mohseni Bandpey, was quoted by the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) as saying. More than 9.5 million people are eligible to vote in Tehran Province.

At 3:00 pm, three hours before the polls were expected to close, Head of National Election Headquarters Jamal Orfi said around 11 million votes had been cast until then. This constitutes slightly less than 20 percent of all eligible voters.

Some social media users have posted videos of very quiet polling stations in various cities, including Shahr-e Rey in the south of the capital, Boukan in Kordestan Province, Seman in the central province of Semnan, the capital city of Hormozgan Province Bandar Abbas, and the capital city of Fars Province Shiraz. The time these videos were taken is not verifiable.

Calling election day a "day of national celebration" when casting his ballot at Imam Khomeini Hosseinieh (religious hall) adjacent to his official residence on Friday, Khamenei said "Whoever cares about the country's national interests will vote".

Pilgrims at Imam Reza Shrine of Mashhad, the second-largest Iranian city, queue to vote, but compared with past elections, voter presence in this important location seems sparse.

In the week leading to the election day, Khamenei twice reached out to Iranians to convince them to vote in the elections, somehow indicating his concern about the impact of a low turnout. Iran has always prided itself in high turnout in elections. In the parliamentary vote four years ago 62 percent participated. The turnout in Tehran was 50 percent.

According to a nationwide poll taken by Iranian Students Polling Agency (ISPA) 46.5 percent of respondents to its telephone poll had said they would definitely vote on Friday, while 11.5 percent were not decided.

Based on a recent poll conducted by University of Tehran's Social Studies and Research Institute, turnout is likely to be very low in Tehran. The poll conducted in January showed that 93 percent of the people in Tehran were unhappy with the current situation of the country and its management, and only 24.2% of them will go to the polls.

In the same poll 9.4 percent of the respondents said they would vote for reformists, 15.2 percent chose principlists, 28.5 percent indicated that they would vote for neither reformists nor principlists and 43.6 percent were undecided.

Nearly three hours after the polls opened the head of the country's Election Headquarters announced that at some polling stations fingerprints on the ballot paper were not required to prevent coronavirus from spreading.

At the same time, the head of the Election Headquarters of Tehran Province announced that disinfectants are provided at all polling stations and using the stamp pad for fingerprints is "voluntary".

According to the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) voters in provinces of Qom, South and East Khorasan, Kermanshah, Lorestan, Semnan, East Azarbaijan, Yazd and Marki are not required to put their fingerprints on their ballot papers.

The state-run television has shown footage of President Hassan Rouhani, Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Ebrahim Raeesi, Majles Speaker Ali Larijani who is not running himself, as well as some high-ranking clerics and state officials casting their ballots.

Ayatollah Jannati, the controversial Secretary of the election watchdog, the Guardian Council, also was shown casting his ballot a day after the U.S. Department of Treasury designated him and four other members of the Council for their role in barring candidates from running.

Iranian reformists allege that the Council has effectively decided the outcome of the elections in many constituencies by vetting out all reformist candidates and many reformist figures and parties have said they will not be voting at all in those constituencies.

Many prominent politicians including sitting MPs Ali Motahari (conservative) and Mahmoud Sadeqi (Sadeghi) have also been disqualified to create what critics call "an engineered election".

None of the three major candidate lists, namely Principlists, the Great Principlist Coalition and the List of Hope consisting of reformists and moderates could gain a majority in the first round but in the second round the coalition of reformists and moderates won a relative majority by 137 seats against the 120 seats won by the Principlists. The rest of the seats went to candidates who were not supported by either Principlists or Reformist/Moderate coalition.

This time, however, reformists have not offered a list in Tehran. Given the massive disqualification of their candidates, they only have a chance of winning in about 40 constituencies.

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    Maryam Sinaiee

    Maryam Sinaiee is a British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National, who contributes to Radio Farda.