Fri, 10 Apr 2020

Iranians took to the polls on Friday in an election expected to see conservatives tighten their grip on parliament, amid voter apathy after the disqualification of thousands of candidates.

Polls shut at midnight (20:30 GMT) after at least five extensions beyond the originally scheduled 18:00 (14:30 GMT) closing time to allow a maximum number of people to cast their ballots.

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Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had urged all Iranians to take part as he cast the first ballot in the election, saying that doing so would "guarantee the country's national interests".

The 11th parliamentary election since the 1979 Islamic Revolution comes after a surge in tensions between Tehran and Washington, and Iran's accidental downing of a Ukrainian airliner that sparked anti-government protests.

Turnout was estimated at around 40% nationwide and 30% in Tehran at 14:30 GMT, according to Fars news agency, close to the ultra-conservatives.

Last-minute decision

Fars said the official turnout figure would be released on Saturday, while results are not expected to be announced until Sunday.

Authorities announced schools will be closed on Saturday in dozens of urban centres to allow for ballot counting.

Voters formed long queues in the morning at polling stations in south Tehran, where conservatives have a solid support base. Far fewer were seen waiting to vote in upmarket northern neighbourhoods.

State television showed images from more than 20 cities and towns of people still queued up to vote around 20:00 while announcing the second extension.

Some voters in a downtown Tehran mosque said they had turned up late for voting as it was a last-minute decision, an AFP journalist reported.

The election coincided with an outbreak of the new coronavirus that authorities say has killed four people in the Islamic republic this week.

One official accused Iran's enemies of overplaying the spread of the disease in a bid to harm the credibility of the election.

Experts had predicted a low turnout that they said would serve the conservatives at the expense of President Hassan Rouhani, re-elected in 2017 promising more freedoms and the benefits of engagement with the West.

Iran fell into a deep recession after US President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions following Washington's unilateral withdrawal from a landmark nuclear deal in 2018.

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