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Hard-Liners Take All Parliamentary Seats in Tehran; Full Vote Totals Still Not Released

By RFE/RL February 23, 2020

Iranian officials said hard-line candidates won all 30 parliamentary seats in the capital Tehran, as a delay in the release of full countrywide results fueled questions about record low turnout.

Prior to the February 21 vote, thousands of reformists and relative moderates were disqualified by election officials, leaving little doubt as to the eventual victors.

State TV reported February 23 that all 30 of Tehran's seats for the 290-seat parliament had gone to conservative candidates, and that former Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf was the top winner in the capital.

Qalibaf, an air force commander within the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, is seen as a prime candidate to become the next parliament speaker.

The results in Tehran, where the electorate is more liberal than in other parts of the country, are a sharp contrast from the last election in 2016, when moderate candidates won the region's 30 seats.

In constituencies where candidates failed to get 20 percent of votes cast, a runoff election will be held in April.

The semiofficial Fars news agency, which is affiliated with the IRGC, predicted on February 22 that conservative candidates would win 135 seats, while reformists were to gain 20 seats and independents 28.

Turnout figures, released February 23, showed a record low number of voters cast ballots. Interior Minister Abdolreza Fazli said 42.6 percent of eligible voters turned out -- the lowest turnout since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, according to AFP.

Fazli said the participation rate was "acceptable" and he blamed bad weather, the Ukrainian airline disaster, a coronavirus outbreak, and other incidents in the lead-up to the election.

In the 2016 vote, a bloc of reformists and moderate conservatives won 41 percent of the 290 parliamentary seats. Hard-liners won 29 percent and independents took 28 percent.

All of those standing for election were prescreened by a group of hard-line Islamic clerics in the Guardians Council, who cleared 7,148 candidacies and disqualified some 9,000 potential candidates.

Ninety members of the outgoing parliament were among those who were rejected. Many were moderates or reformist lawmakers who support engagement with the West.

Because of the disqualifications, turnout was expected to be lower than usual despite pleas by Iranian leaders for citizens to head to the polls.

The Interior Ministry, which oversaw the elections, had not released turnout figures as of February 23, but there were indications that voter participation was unusually low.

Authorities three times extended voting to allow more people to cast ballots. VOA reported that dozens of video reports purportedly showing nearly empty polling stations were being posted to social media. Germany's dpa news agency quoted locals in Tehran as saying many polling stations were empty.

Fars estimated turnout at 40 percent nationwide and 30 percent in Tehran. Britain's Guardian newspaper put the turnout in Tehran at 20-25 percent.

Before the vote, authorities had predicted a turnout of about 50 percent, compared with 62 percent in the 2016 parliamentary elections.

On February 23, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appeared to confirm suspicions that fewer voters had turned out than anticipated, as he blamed enemy "propaganda" for amplifying the threat of the coronavirus, in an effort to dissuade people from voting.

"Their media did not ignore the tiniest opportunity for discouraging people and resorting to the pretext of diseases and the virus," Khamenei said in remarks from his office in Tehran.

Iran reported its first case of the virus on February 19, two days before the national polls. Since then, a total of eight deaths have been reported -- the highest death toll from the virus outside of China, where the outbreak first emerged a couple of months ago.

Observers had said turnout could be affected by announcements from health officials of several infections and deaths related to the coronavirus.

The elections were seen as a test of the popularity of the conservative clerical establishment, coming at a time of public anger over official corruption, Iran's worsening economy, and Tehran's handling of the downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet by Iranian air defenses that killed all 176 people on board.

Many activists, including some political prisoners, had called on voters to boycott the elections in protest of what they say is "engineering the elections" and the harsh suppression of protesters in November and January.

The United States had criticized the elections ahead of time. On February 20, Washington imposed sanctions on five members of Iran's Guardians Council and its Elections Supervision Committee, accusing them of rigging the elections.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, AFP, dpa, and Reuters

Source: appear-ahead-as-votes-counted-in-iran-s- parliamentary-elections/30448660.html

Copyright (c) 2020. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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