Conservatives poised to make gains in Iran elections amid sanctions, domestic problems

iStock(NEW YORK) — Iran held its 11th parliament election on Friday amid the toughest sanctions on the country and after a few hectic months, domestically.

The competition for more than 290 seats in the parliament seems an already-won game for the conservative parties in the absence of many well-known reformist candidates.

The initial, yet unofficial, results indicate that the conservative party candidates are likely to take all 30 parliament seats in Tehran, Fars News Agency reported on Saturday.

Iran’s Guardian Council is run by conservative officials and is responsible for supervising the election process, as well as approving the Islamic Republic’s qualification standards for candidates. Many of those registered as reformists in Friday’s election — including about 90 of the current reformist-majority incumbents — were barred from running by the council.

The move discouraged many reformists from casting votes.

Maryam, a 21-year-old electrical engineering student in Tehran who did not want her full name disclosed, told ABC News that she did not cast a vote on Friday.

“There is no point in voting when it doesn’t make any change,” she said. The last time she voted was for President Hassan Rouhani.

“I thought he was a reformist and close to my ideas, but he betrayed our votes by not standing with people. This time, even on paper, we do not have anyone who aligns with our social and political stances,” she added.

While many reformists decided not to participate, voters who found their representatives on candidate lists, did show up to the polls.

“Why shouldn’t I vote? Our country is under siege by wolves in the world and their sanctions. I can’t convince myself to leave it alone,” said Abbas Mehrabi, a 65-year-old taxi driver in Tehran. “We all suffer from high prices and difficulties to make ends meet, but I still believe that my vote counts.”

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the day a “national celebration” after casting his vote in Tehran soon after the polls opened on Friday.

“The truth is that elections guarantee the national interest of the country. Anyone who is interested in the country’s interests attends the election,” the Supreme Leader said.

“Rouhani’s negotiation policy was a mistake,” Reza, who did not want his last name to be mentioned, said. “Hopefully, the new parliament will make laws that lead the country towards using domestic potentials rather than looking for help from the West,” he added.

Conservatives have been criticizing the Rouhani administration’s policy of negotiating with western countries, specifically over the nuclear deal the country signed with six world powers including the U.K., France, Germany, Russia China and the U.S.. According to the deal, Iran would curb its nuclear program and in return, the West would ease sanctions on the country.

Despite Iran’s commitment to the deal, President Trump withdrew from the pact and restored sanctions.

The move led to severe criticisms against the Iranian government’s negotiation policy and gave more say to political hardliners in the country.

“I know we are under sanctions, but, through years, we have learnt the ropes how to bypass them,” Reza said.

“We can survive the sanctions with the help of our loyal allies like China. No matter what the costs are, it is better than negotiating with the West,” he added.

Maryam, however, said she is worried about Iran’s isolation from the rest of the world. “Every time that we thought things can’t get crazier, we have been proven wrong. I fear that my country gets even more isolated and I am sad I can’t do much about it,” she said.

Despite speculations about a low voter turnout, the spokesperson of the Guardian Council, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei said in a press conference on Wednesday that Iran has never had a turnout less than 50%. “And, legally speaking, even if it happens, it does not contradict democracy as we have witnessed it in European countries,” Kadkhodaei said.

The number of eligible people to vote in Iran’s election is 57.9 million. According to the country’s Ministry of Interior affairs, about 11 million people had cast their votes across the country until 3 p.m. on Friday. Abdoreza Rahmani Fazli, the minister of interior affairs said that the final turnout would be revealed after counting the votes on Saturday.

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