Iranians begin voting in crucial elections to choose members of Parliament and the Assembly of Experts.
Polls opened at 8:00 local time and are slated to close at 18:00 on Friday, but voting hours could be extended if the need arises amid expectations of a high turnout.
In the opening hour of the voting, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Imam Sayyed Ali Khamenei cast his ballots at a polling station in downtown Tehran. Imam Khamenei called on all Iranians to participate in the elections, saying “voting is both a right and a duty.”
“Anybody who loves Iran, anybody who loves the Islamic Republic and national dignity, grandeur and glory is advised to participate in the elections,” the Leader said. He further advised voters to participate “in this great task with the intention of generating additional dignity and full independence for the country.” “Our enemies have their covetous eyes trained on Iran. People are advised to vote with discretion and foresight and disappoint the enemies,” he said.
Around 55 million Iranians are eligible to vote in the elections which are the first since Iran clinched a landmark nuclear agreement. “Elections are always important but in certain junctures they have more importance,” Imam Khamenei said.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was also among the first officials to cast his ballots at the Interior Ministry in Tehran.
Addressing Iranians, Rouhani congratulated the nation on its high turnout even in the early hours of voting, saying reports show full security prevailing at polling stations across the country.
He said the elections are a symbol of Iran’s independence and national sovereignty, adding that after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Iranian nation cut the hands of enemies that were interfering in the country’s domestic affairs and took over its own destiny.
The Iranian chief executive further said the active “political participation” of people means “trust in the establishment,” saying the government will spare no efforts to protect people’s vote and ensure healthy and legitimate elections.
“I have no doubt that the Iranian nation will create another epic at this important juncture,” President Rouhani stressed, adding that all people and political factions taking part in the polls are “victorious.”
As many as 4,844 candidates, including about 500 women, are competing for a place in Parliament, head of the Interior Ministry’s election headquarters Mohammad Hossein Moqimi said on Thursday.
In the capital Tehran, some 1,000 candidates compete for 30 parliamentary seats. Five seats also go to the religious minorities recognized in the Iranian Constitution, namely Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians.
Among the main tasks of the legislative body are introducing legislation, dismissing the president and cabinet ministers through no-confidence votes, approving annual national budget and ratifying international treaties.
In the simultaneous vote on Friday, Iranians will also select 88 senior religious figures of the Assembly of Experts, which is tasked with appointing the Leader and monitoring his performance.
A week of heated election campaigns came to a close on Wednesday night. Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani said opinion polls and estimates showed the turnout would be at around 70 percent.
Rahmani Fazli added that the vote counting will begin as soon as the polls are closed. “All necessary measures have been taken in various parts of the country in preparation for vibrant elections, and no security issues have been reported,” he said.
He pointed to special features of the ballots being used in this year’s elections, saying they have been designed in a way to lower the chances of fraud.
There are 52,000 polling stations with 120,000 ballot boxes across the country, according to the Iranian minister.