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In Iran vote, conservatives set to retain power

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's hard-line allies and other conservative factions are expected to win a majority in the 290-seat parliament.

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"It's so important that Khomeini said the parliament is the people's home, the head of the country; it decides the future," says a government official who gives his name as Hossein Karimi. He was voting in the hall where Khomeini once preached, in the traditional Jamaran neighborhood in north Tehran. "The people who defend the ideals of Imam Khomeini should enter [parliament]. They should be brave. They should be knowledgeable."

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But around him other voters were conspicuously writing the names of Mr. Khatami's list of endorsed candidates onto the ballot.

"I want to decide for my future, and to let the world know we are smart enough to decide for ourselves," says Mohammad Amir Amighi, a computer software student. New rules, such as a short campaign and small-sized photos on posters, "really damaged the election," he says. But reformists can still win up to one-third of the vote, he estimates, if "there are no problems with the ballots and all is correct."

Reform leaders hope so. Khatami and former presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, among others, urged broad turnout to prevent ceding parliament to hard-liners without a fight – again.

"I'm not happy, but I am voting so that we can be happy in the future," says Hossein Mirfatah, a student of industrial engineering who, along with all his family, supports Khatami. "It's my country, and I want to live here free. I want to select my leaders.... People understand that when they don't vote they lose."

A message to the West: We're united

At Ghalampour's polling station in the Dezashib district of Tehran, there were five official observers from the Guardian Council – the same unelected conservative body that has final say on candidate qualifications. There were two more from the interior ministry, and two from the local governor's office, but no party observers.

Though polling stations are meant to be free of party materials, beneath some ballot boxes in Tehran on Friday were hung posters from the "morals committee" of the election commission, which showed a photograph of Ahmadinejad and a field of red flowers with the promise that "another spring is waiting."

The United States this week said it has "very low expectations that people will be able to actually express themselves."

Ahmadinejad took a decidedly different tone. "Our revolution means the presence of people," said the president after voting. "Parliament belongs to people and it should be a reflection of what they want."

But not everyone who voted came to the polls with conviction.

Teenage student Mona Shams, and her older sister Mehraveh, who works at the oil ministry, are two of them. Arriving at an ornately tiled mosque wearing bright lipstick and tight too-fashionable manteaux, they say they're voting only to have their identity cards stamped – to ensure no trouble later getting into university, or at work.

"Really we don't like this [regime], we don't accept it," says the younger Ms. Shams. "But we have to vote."

Petroleum engineer Nasser Fattahi holds a more nuanced view. He says he voted to send a message to the West of "unity," and defiance that sanctions "can slow down any development [in Iran], but they can't stop us."

"We try to elect the most experienced people," he says, taking a list of hard-line candidates from his pocket – conveniently provided by each party. "But voting does not mean everyone is satisfied with what is going on."