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Iran election draws conservatives: 'God, please accept this vote from me'

State TV reported a turnout of 64.6 percent in Iran's election today, the first since the 2009 poll that led to a crisis of legitimacy for the regime. Leaders said it was a 'religious duty' to vote.

By Staff writer / March 2, 2012

Iranians queue to cast their ballot for the parliamentary elections at Masoumeh shrine in the city of Qom, 78 miles south of the Tehran, Iran, Friday.

Kamran Jebreili/AP

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Iranian state media has declared a heavy turnout in parliamentary elections, in line with assertions by top officials that mass participation would "smack the face" of Iran's enemies.

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State-run PressTV reported that 64.6 percent of eligible voters had cast ballots one hour before polls closed. Officials extended voting by four hours to 10 p.m. local time, to accommodate large numbers, they said, and PressTV stated that "most provinces requested more ballot papers."

Despite those figures, there was also widespread anecdotal evidence that an opposition boycott kept many reform-minded voters at home – especially in big cities like Tehran.

If true, the 64.6 percent figure is several points above the last parliamentary election, in 2008 – and is meant by Iran's conservative leaders to remove the stain of the 2009 presidential race and its violent aftermath.

Iranians in the capital said voting day looked like many before it, with sparse turnout in wealthier northern parts of the city, and polling stations in the more conservative center and south crowded with those more likely to heed the words of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that voting was a "religious duty."

"To me it was like a typical election, and I've seen many of them," said an Iranian analyst who visited a number of stations throughout the day.

"I'd be really surprised if officials announced 70 percent turnout; it would be really strange," says the analyst, who asked not to be named. Lower overall turnouts were expected in Tehran – where two popular opposition leaders remain under house arrest, and pro-democracy Green Movement protests were brutally crushed in 2009.

Says the analyst: the 64.6 percent figure is "a little more than my expectation, but again it's not so ground-breaking."

Iranians were quoted throughout the day, by Iranian and Western media alike, as professing devotion to Iran's Islamic system and the "duty and right" to vote for it – especially in the face of sanctions and threats to Iran over its nuclear program.

"God, please accept this vote from me," the semi-official Fars News Agency quoted a 95-year-old man in Damavand saying as he passed away, according to a translation by EAWorldview.

Others in the opposition camp declared the vote a pointless exercise, since reformist candidates were among more than 2,000 applicants who were rejected – along with 33 sitting members of parliament.

Battle on the right

The political battle waged today took place entirely on the right of the political spectrum, between conservative titans and followers of Ayatollah Khamenei on one side, and his divisive President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the other.

The results, as they become clear in coming days, will shape how Iran's fractious conservatives will approach key presidential elections in June 2013, at the end of Mr. Ahmadinejad's second and final term.

One Tehran resident reporting to the Tehran Bureau website tried to gauge interest.

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