Saturday, 14 December, 2019

Iran elections: Counting starts after high turnout

Iran started counting tens of millions of votes on Saturday after hotly contested elections, Reuters reported.

The twinned elections for parliament and a leadership body called the Assembly of Experts are seen by some analysts as a potential turning point that could shape the future for the next generation, in a country where nearly 60 percent of the 80 million population is under 30.

The elections are the first since Tehran agreed with major powers to curb its nuclear program, leading to the removal of most of the stringent international sanctions that have paralyzed the economy over the past decade.

Turnout was heavy. Polling was extended five times for a total of almost six hours, because so many people wanted to vote.

No official results were released overnight, state television said in its morning news bulletin. The Interior Ministry published a statement saying no result would be valid before it was officially announced by the ministry.

The statement appeared after the Fars and Tasnim news agencies, both affiliated to hardliners in the establishment, began publishing “unofficial lists of winners” claiming that conservatives had scored some early wins.

The Fars count listed around 30 lawmakers and more than 20 members of the Assembly of Experts, mostly conservatives, as having won seats.

A clear outcome may take days to emerge, although conservatives normally perform well in rural areas and young urbanites are seen as favoring more moderate candidates allied to President Hassan Rouhani.

Among other voters at a polling station in Khorasan square, a working class neighborhood in Tehran, Mahnaz Mehri, a 52-year-old mother of four, said she was voting for reformists because they had a better vision for the economy and foreign policy.

In Meydan Beheshti square, a mainly conservative neighborhood, Reza Ganjialilu, a 28-year-old employee at an electronics shop said he did not favor the reformists.

“I have a duty to my country. This group of people (conservatives) are the best. Our main concern is preserving our religion, ideology, not just the economy,” he said.

Iran, which has the world’s second largest gas reserves, a diversified manufacturing base and an educated workforce, is seen by global investors as a huge emerging market opportunity, in everything from cars to airplanes and railways to retail.

For ordinary Iranians, the prospect of this kind of investment holds out the promise of a return to economic growth, better living standards and more jobs in the long run.

BUSY POLLING

Both camps appeared successful in getting supporters out to vote. Although extensions of voting are common in Iranian elections, many were surprised to see polling as busy in the evening as it had been in the morning. State television said voting booths in other cities were still packed mid-evening.

Influential former president Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, allied to Rouhani, called on election authorities to protect people’s votes. “You should show our people that their votes will be preserved and are in safe hands,” he said.

Asked what would happen if reformists did not win, he told Reuters: “It will be a major loss for the Iranian nation.”

Rouhani wants to cash in on the popularity he gained from the nuclear deal to help his supporters wrest parliament from the hardliners who control it and possibly help him win a second presidential term in elections next year.

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