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High turnout in Iran elections could end 'paranoia' of leaders

While full results of Friday's Iran elections have yet to be released, the regime has trumpeted an official turnout of 64 percent as a public vote of confidence after the tumultuous 2009 election.

By Staff writer / March 5, 2012

In front of a portrait of late Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini, former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani casts his ballot for the parliamentary elections at a polling station in Tehran, Iran, Friday, March 2. The balloting for the 290-member parliament is the first major voting since the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009 and the mass protests and crackdowns that followed.

Ruhollah Vahdati/ISNA/AP

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Three days after Iranians cast ballots in parliamentary elections, the political impact of the results remains unclear, even as official media hailed "victory" with a 64 percent turnout that it claimed "astounded" foreign journalists.

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Iran's Foreign Ministry today "urged enemies to bow before the grandeur and dignity of the Iranian people," after "another epic in the history of their [1979] Islamic revolution."

Those enemies were to be found inside Iran also, but have now been crushed, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency. It reported today that the high turnout in the first election since the violent aftermath of the 2009 presidential vote “showed people’s strong opposition to the seditionist moves started and led by the then-presidential candidates, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi” – leaders of the opposition Green Movement who have been under house arrest for more than a year.

Farideh Farhi, an Iran expert at the University of Hawaii, says that Iran's declarations that the vote was a "slap in the face" of enemies means that the "paranoia" expressed by Iranian leaders in the run-up to the election could possibly be overcome.

"Let us hope they will be happy. It will have benefits for everybody if the paranoia goes away, and they feel successful," says Ms. Farhi. "The problem within the context of Iranian politics is they keep saying, 'We have won,' and 'We have done well,' 'We showed them,' but then the political discourse continues to be quite paranoid about 'sedition' and the designs of the enemy, so it never seems enough."

How elections will shape Iran's future

Clarity about the results of the March 2 election has been in short supply; today journalists in Tehran who went to a Minister of Interior press conference to hear final results announced left empty-handed.

Hard-line loyalists of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are nevertheless reported by Iranian media to have gained 75 percent of the vote for the 290 seats in Iran's soaring, modern parliament building. 

When full results do emerge from a vote in which non-conservative opponents were banned, jailed, or under house arrest, the answers to two questions especially will shape Iran’s future political balance:

1) With this vote, has Iran's Islamic regime regained some of the popular legitimacy lost during the 2009 elections? In that vote, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was reinstated for a second term with "divine" authority – and a bloody crackdown that crushed protests against fraud by millions of Iranians who took to the streets.

2) How will this vote affect the fortunes of Mr. Ahmadinejad: Will he be a lame duck after first losing his challenge last year to the authority of Ayatollah Khamenei, and now face an even more hostile parliament?

Farhi, who has analyzed in detail many Iranian elections, says that the lack of a dominant force among election winners this time around is likely to boost Mr. Khamenei.

"I do see an increased segmentation – increased factionalization – within parliament, which means that no political point of view, among the hard-liners and pragmatists and traditionalists, have really done well,” says Farhi. This will yield "increased power on the part of Khamenei because there is going to be more fighting in parliament, and everyone is going to end up going to Khamenei to come and fix things."

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