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Updated: March 2, 2012 15:52 IST

Voter turnout key in Iran

Atul Aneja
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Ayatollah-Ahmadinejad rift a core issue in parliamentary polls

Iran's top leaders have gone into overdrive to seek a higher voter turnout in parliamentary elections on Friday — an index of the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic — at a time when Western economic sanctions against Iran have begun to bite and the country is threatened with war on account of its nuclear programme.

Ahead of Friday's poll for the Majlis (Parliament), Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appealed to voters to come out in droves. He said “higher the turnout, the more competent, the bolder, and the stronger the Majlis will be, and such a Majlis will be able to determinedly make the voice of the people heard in the world”.

Sensitive polls

He acknowledged that the elections were more “sensitive” than the previous ones, and said success at the polls would deliver a huge blow to the “domineering powers [that] have played most of their cards against the Iranian nation”.

Ayatollah Khamenei blamed Western countries and Israel — in his view, the “domineering powers” — for undertaking a campaign to tarnish the image of the Iranian system, which could otherwise be worthy of emulation by other countries. He added that the diatribe of these countries was also meant to “dissuade the Iranian people from travelling on the path that led to a widespread awakening in the Muslim world”.

Analysts point out that the election could sharpen the divide between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader — their rift evident over the President's support for Rahim Mashaee, his chief of staff, who does not appear to have many friends in the Supreme Leader's office. The tensions between the charismatic Mr. Ahmadinejad and the dour Supreme Leader have also found reflection during utterances at the Friday prayers in Tehran University, where the President has to face veiled admonishments by the prayer leaders. The friction could rise if more of the President's camp get elected. In that case, the demand for the impeachment of the President, which had resonated in the outgoing Parliament, could be buried for the foreseeable future. Despite the sharpening divide, some analysts are of the view that the rift is unlikely to be fatal, as the political system faced tougher turf wars, and managed to endure.

All-conservative affair

The elections will be an all-conservative affair — leaders of the green movement that rocked Tehran in 2009 and challenged the establishment are under house arrest.

Loyalists of the Supreme Leader under the category of “principalists” form an important chunk of the contestants. In theory they are led by Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Kani, chairman of the Council of Experts. But observers say this is a facade, and that real power lies with the elite Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), whose influence is pervasive within their ranks. One of their heavyweight candidates is Gholam Haddad Adel, who is running for the Tehran seat. He is a former Speaker, but more importantly, is the father-in-law of Ayatollah Khamenei's second son, Mojtaba.

Mr. Ahmadinejad's camp followers are mainly organised under the Durable Front of the Islamic Revolution.

Mohsen Rezaei, a former IRGC head, leads the third faction, which seeks, with mixed results, to project itself as a third alternative to the two hardline factions. A large number of conservative and ultra-conservatives are standing for elections as independents.

Voters would have to choose among the 3,400 hopefuls who are standing for 290 seats.

The elections are taking place at a time when Tehran is in the midst of waging an energy war with Europe. Brent crude prices for April delivery on Thursday have jumped to $123.56 a barrel — the hike attributed to the risk of Iran oil supplies failing to reach the markets.

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