Iran holds election, likely to strengthen hard-liners

An Iranian man registers to vote at a mobile polling station in the capital Tehran on February 21, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 22 February 2020

Iran holds election, likely to strengthen hard-liners

  • Voting is scheduled to last for 10 hours
  • There are some 58 million Iranians eligible to vote for the country’s 290-seat parliament

TEHRAN: Iranians voted on Friday in a parliamentary election likely to help hard-line loyalists of the supreme leader tighten their grip on power as the country faces mounting US pressure over its nuclear program and growing discontent at home.
State television said voting would run for 10 hours, but could be extended depending on turnout, which is seen as a critical test of the popularity of the clerical establishment after most moderates and leading conservative candidates were barred from running.
Seven hours after polls opened, an Interior Ministry official said about 11 million of 58 million eligible voters had cast their ballots for candidates in the 290-member parliament, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported.
With thousands of potential candidates disqualified in favor of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s allies, the vote is not expected to ease Iran’s nuclear standoff with the US or spawn a softer foreign policy.
Parliament’s power is limited, but gains by security hawks could weaken pragmatists and conservatives who support the ruling theocracy but also more economically beneficial engagement with the West, from which Tehran has been estranged since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
A rise in the number of hard-liners in the assembly may also help them in the 2021 contest for president, a job with broad daily control of government. President Hassan Rouhani, from the pragmatist faction, won the last two elections on promises to open Iran to the outside world.
The United States’ 2018 withdrawal from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, and its reimposition of sanctions, have hit Iran’s economy hard and led to widespread hardships.
A US drone strike killed Iran’s most prominent military commander, Qassem Soleimani, in Iraq on Jan. 3. Iran retaliated by firing ballistic missiles at US targets in Iraq, killing no one but causing brain injuries in over 100 soldiers.
Encouraging Iranians to vote, state TV aired footage of people lined up at polling stations set up mainly at mosques.
“I am here to vote. It is my duty to follow martyr Soleimani’s path,” said a young voter at a mosque at a cemetery, where Soleimani is buried in his hometown.
Soleimani, architect of Tehran’s overseas clandestine and military operations as head of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, was a national hero to many Iranians. He was Iran’s most powerful figure after Khamenei.

SPEEDREAD

Ali Khamenei’s allies, the vote is not expected to ease Iran’s nuclear standoff with the US or spawn a softer foreign policy.

“Each vote put into the ballot box is a missile into the heart of America,” said Amirali Hajjizadeh, head of the aerospace unit of the Revolutionary Guards.
Rouhani urged Iranians to demonstrate “victory” by voting in large numbers. “Our enemies will be further disappointed by the high turnout,” he said after voting.

LOWER TURNOUT LIKELY
Iranians who joined large protests in November called on their leaders to focus on improving the battered economy and tackling state corruption, also urging Khamenei to step down.
Iranian authorities forecast a turnout of about 50%, compared to 62% and 66% respectively in the 2016 and 2012 votes.
Iranians contacted by Reuters by telephone said turnout was low in some districts in the capital.
“In my area in central Tehran not many people are voting. There is one polling station just beside my house in Javadiyeh and only a handful of voters were there when I last checked an hour ago,” said sports teacher Amirhossein, 28.
Health ministry authorities advised voters not to be concerned about the threat of new coronavirus cases, as Tehran confirmed 13 new ones on Friday, two of whom have died.

“RELIGIOUS DUTY“
The slate of hard-line candidates is dominated by acolytes of Khamenei, including former members of the Guards, who answer directly to the supreme leader, and their affiliated Basij militia, insiders and analysts say.
Former Guards commander Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf tops the parliamentary list of the main hard-line coalition for Tehran’s 30 seats in the assembly.
Khamenei was the first to cast his ballot, saying voting is “a religious duty.”
With Iran facing deepening isolation on the global stage and discontent at home over economic privations, analysts described the election as a litmus test of the leader’s handling of the political and economic crises.
The Guardian Council removed 6,850 moderates and leading conservatives from the field, citing various grounds for the rejections including “corruption and being unfaithful to Islam.”
That left voters with a choice mostly between hard-line and low-key conservative candidates.
On Thursday, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on members of the Guardian Council over the candidate bans. The spokesman for the Council said he was honored to be blacklisted by the United States.
Iran’s clerical establishment has faced a legitimacy crisis since last year when protests over a fuel price hike turned political with demonstrators calling for “regime change.” The unrest was met with the bloodiest crackdown since the Islamic Revolution, with hundreds of protesters killed.
Many Iranians are also angry over the shooting-down of a Ukrainian passenger plane in error in January that killed all 176 people on board, mainly Iranians. After days of denials, Tehran said the Guards were to blame.
(Additional reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh Writing by Parisa Hafezi Editing by Michael Georgy and Mark Heinrich)


Turkey plans to resume flights with 40 countries in June

Updated 6 min 3 sec ago

Turkey plans to resume flights with 40 countries in June

  • Turkey largely sealed off its borders as part of measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak
  • Domestic flights resumed on Monday to some provinces

ANKARA: Turkey plans to resume flights with around 40 countries in June and has reached preliminary agreements for reciprocal air travel with 15 countries, Transport Minister Adil Karaismailoglu said on Thursday.
Turkey largely sealed off its borders as part of measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak. Domestic flights resumed on Monday to some provinces as Ankara eased restrictions after a significant drop in infection rates.
Karaismailoglu said flights would resume in five stages in June, adding Turkey was in talks with 92 countries on resuming flights in a safe manner.
“We believe that we have left behind an important point in the battle against the virus globally. Now, we have to continue our global ties and trade,” he said in a written statement.
Flights to Northern Cyprus, Bahrain, Bulgaria, Qatar and Greece will resume on June 10, he said. Flights to 17 destinations, including Germany, Austria, Croatia, and Singapore will restart on June 15. Flights to a further 16 countries will begin on June 20, 22 and 25, including to South Korea, Qatar, the Netherlands, Norway and Belgium, he added.
The 15 countries with which Ankara has reached a preliminary agreement to resume reciprocal flights include Italy, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Albania, Belarus, Jordan and Morocco.
Germany said on Wednesday it was talking to Ankara about reviewing travel restrictions but was awaiting a recommendation from the European Union.
The virus has killed 4,609 people in Turkey, with more than 165,000 infections so far.