Iranians are heading to the polls on Friday in a parliamentary election seen as a referendum on the establishment as the country faces growing isolation and threats of conflict over its nuclear standoff with the U.S. amid rising discontent at home.
While establishment supporters will vote for hardline candidates, many pro-reform Iranians are furious over the handling of November protests against fuel price hikes that soon turned political, with demonstrators demanding "regime change." Many people on the streets of Tehran have expressed dissatisfaction with politicians ahead of the election, saying they failed to keep their word or to raise living standards. The public is also livid over the accidental downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane in January that killed all 176 people aboard, mainly Iranians. After days of denials, Tehran admitted the Guards were to blame.
After the Iranian government raised the fuel prices by 50%, thousands of protesters took to the streets to protest the government. Blocking roads and attempting to prevent the security forces from entering certain neighborhoods, the protesters clashed with the police. Reportedly, the police did not refrain from using live bullets, killing more than 100 people. U.S. sanctions have already deteriorated the economic situation. But Iran's trans-border activities also increase the burden on the country's economy.
The vote to pick 290 lawmakers is Iran's first since U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and major powers in 2018, to reimpose sanctions that have hit the economy hard. Turnout was 62% in the 2016 parliamentary vote and 66% of people voted in 2012. About 58 million Iranians are eligible to vote.
Conservatives are expected to make an overwhelming resurgence in Friday's vote. Their gains would be made at the expense of those who back President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate conservative who was re-elected in 2017 promising people more freedoms and the benefits of engagement with the West.
The Guardian Council, which must approve candidates, has rejected about 6,850 moderate or leading conservative hopefuls in favor of hardliners from among 14,000 applicants seeking to contest Friday's vote.
The election will have no major influence on foreign affairs or Iran's nuclear policy, which is determined by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose hardline loyalists are likely to dominate the parliament. On Tuesday, Khamenei said voting was "a religious duty" but some prominent pro-reform politicians in Iran and activists abroad have called for a boycott of the elections. Iranian activists and opposition groups are distributing the Twitter hashtags #BoycottIranShamElections and #VOTENoVote widely on social media.
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