Anti-Western hardliners dominate Iranian elections

The Iranian regime prevented more than 7,000 candidates from running in recent elections, most of whom were reformists and moderates.

By Associated Press

Iranians voted for a new parliament Friday, with the disqualification of more than 7,000 potential candidates, most of them reformists and moderates, raising the possibility of lower-than-usual turnout.

Among those disqualified were 90 sitting members of parliament who had wanted to run for re-election.

Voting was extended for five hours, but there was no official announcement on turnout after the polls finally closed late Friday.

Initial results were expected to be announced Saturday. Presidential elections are expected to take place in 2021.

The election comes at a time of growing economic hardship for many in Iran. The U.S. imposed sanctions on Iran due the regime’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and its policy of funding and arming terror proxies throughout the region to thr tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Sanctions have strangled Iran’s ability to sell its oil abroad, forcing its economy into recession.

Also looming over the election is the threat of the new coronavirus. Many voters headed to the polls with face masks on.

Coronavirus threat looms in Iran

As of Saturday evening, Iranian health authorities confirmed five deaths from the virus, which first emerged in China in December, from among 18 confirmed cases. Authorities say all the cases have links with city of Qom, where the first two elderly patients died on Wednesday. Concerns over the spread of the virus prompted authorities in Iran to close all schools, universities and Shiite seminaries in Qom.

Iran’s leadership and state media urged people to show up and vote, with some framing it as a religious duty.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei cast his ballot at a mosque near his Tehran office shortly after polls opened at 8 a.m.

Earlier in the week, Khamenei said high voter turnout will thwart “plots and plans” by the U.S. and supporters of Israel against Iran.

After the disqualifications, thousands of candidates were left vying for a place in the 290-seat chamber across 208 constituencies.

Tensions with the United States strengthened hard-liners who reinforcing long-held hatred of the West. A parliament stacked with hard-liners could favor expanding the budget for the Revolutionary Guard Corps, a designated terror group according to the U.S., Israel, and other nations.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who had initially criticized the disqualification of so many moderate would-be candidates, cast his ballot on Friday and urged the public to stage another “victory” by voting in large numbers. “Our enemies will be disappointed more than before,” he said.

‘Maximum pressure’

On the eve of the vote, the Trump administration ratcheted up its campaign of pressure on Iran by imposing sanctions on two senior officials of the Guardian Council, the body of clerics and judges that decides which candidates may run in elections. The U.S. also sanctioned three members of Iran’s elections supervisory committee, saying all those targeted were responsible for silencing the voice of the Iranian people by rejecting thousands of people from running.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized the election as a “sham” and a vote that “is not free or fair.”

The 92-year-old head of the Guardian Council, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, who was among those sanctioned on

Thursday, mocked the U.S. decision and its apparently limited impact. “I am thinking what to do with the money that we have in American funds. Also, we cannot go there for Christmas and other occasions,” he was quoted as saying in local media.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was quoted in official media saying the election showcases that Iranians are choosing their own fate and “do not allow a person sitting in Washington to make decisions for them.”

Ali Motahari, one of the pro-reform lawmakers who were barred from defending their seats in this election, said the incoming parliament will not be truly representative of the people. Still, he urged people to vote.

“We should still try to find moderate and clear-headed candidates from the existing ones and vote for them,” he said.

The parliament in Iran does not have power to dictate major policies, but it does debate the annual budget and the possible impeachment of ministers. Power in Iran ultimately rests with Khamenei, who has final say on all key matters.

Tensions between Tehran and Washington spiked after a U.S. airstrike in January killed Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani. The strike led to a tense confrontation in which Iranian forces accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane after it took off from Tehran, killing all 176 people on board. Most of those killed were Iranian.

The shoot-down, and attempts by officials to initially conceal the cause of the crash sparked public anger and protests in Iran.

Meanwhile, Iranians have seen the price of basic goods skyrocket, inflation and unemployment rise and the local currency plummet since President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from Iran’s nuclear agreement with world powers and imposed sanctions.

The economic woes faced by ordinary Iranians fueled anti-government protests in November. International human rights groups say at least 300 people were killed in the protests.

Neda Ghorbani, a 31-year-old mother, said she was not voting Friday because she’s disappointed with Rouhani and other moderates in government.

“We voted in the 2017 (presidential) election hoping that our country’s situation would improve under Rouhani’s presidency, but we were wrong and we accept that we made a mistake (by voting),” she said.