Iran trumpets high turnout in parliamentary elections (+video)
Iran's leaders see today's parliamentary elections as central to affirming their popular support – especially at what Supreme Leader Khamenei called a 'more sensitive period' of tensions with West.
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Still, former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who has been increasingly marginalized after appearing to side with the protesters in 2009, voted with a blank look on his face.Skip to next paragraph
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In a barely disguised swipe at potential manipulation of the vote, Ayatollah Rafsanjani said: "God willing, the election result is what the people want and what they place in the ballot boxes."
The son of another Green Movement leader, cleric and former presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, who is also under house arrest, told an opposition website: "Forces sympathetic to the country cannot participate in an exhibition that does not have the proper conditions ... the results are decided beforehand."
Clearly anxious about international reporting on the vote, Iranian news outlets boasted that 350 foreign journalists were on hand to witness the election – though one of the foreign journalists to actually get a visa, Ivan Watson of CNN, reported that journalists were required to travel on official buses to venues.
In the late afternoon, Jason Rezaian, an American-born freelance journalist based in Tehran, tweeted that “visiting foreign journalists covering the election in Tehran have all been sent back to their hotels and told to stay put.”
Ahmadinejad vs. supreme leader
The mechanics of the vote include 3,269 candidates vetted to run for 290 seats, with Iran's 48 million eligible voters using some 47,000 fixed and mobile polling stations.
But more than 2,000 potential candidates were banned from taking part – many of them reform-leaning – including 33 sitting members of parliament deemed unfit to keep their seats.
While actual turnout is expected by analysts to be low in big cities such as Tehran, which have shown an affinity for reformist candidates in past elections, the rural and small-town vote is a different matter – especially in these parliamentary elections, where elected members of parliament will be expected to deliver local goods and services.
For many, the overall strategic battle in these elections, being waged among the political elite, between supporters of rivals Khamenei and his unpredictable President Ahmadinejad, may barely register.
"In the minds of how many people is it clear that the clash is between Ahmadinejad and the Leader?" asks a Tehran based analyst who asked not to be named.
The analyst recently traveled to rural areas far outside Tehran, where the owner of a remote guesthouse praised Ahmadinejad as a man who brought his family of six relative wealth, with payments made to every citizen as part of a scheme to reduce subsidies.
Says the analyst: "My impression is that, in the minds of ordinary people they are all the same. [They say] 'If Ahmadinejad is good, and he supports the Leader, then [opponents] are telling lies. Ahmadinejad and the Leader are the same, the talk of divisions are not true and the work of enemies, so don't listen to it.'"
That dynamic means it is not clear what results will be announced in an election that will shape Iran's political future ahead of next year's presidential elections.
"While the Guardian Council has already disqualified many Ahmadinejad-backed candidates in large cities, his allies still have a solid chance to win seats in small provincial cities where the vote is less politicized and more focused on economic concerns," note Reza Marashi and Angie Ahmadi of the National Iranian American Council in a Huffington Post analysis.
While Ahmadinejad will not be eligible for reelection when his second term ends in 2013, if his allies make a strong showing in today's parliamentary election, the coming year could see a heightening of tension between the rival factions of the president and the supreme leader.
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