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Iran Hard-Liners Take Early Vote Lead  02/22 09:57

   TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iranian state TV on Saturday announced the first 
partial results from the country's parliamentary elections, indicating a strong 
showing by hard-liners in the capital Tehran, although authorities have not 
released full results or the all-important turnout figure.

   Voters had limited options on Friday's ballot, as more than 7,000 potential 
candidates had been disqualified, most of them reformists and moderates. Among 
those disqualified were 90 sitting members of Iran's 290-seat parliament who 
had wanted to run for re-election. 

   Although the final tally was still not released, a lower-than-usual turnout 
would signal widespread dissatisfaction with the state of the economy and the 
ways in which the government has handled a range of crises.

   State TV, without providing the number of votes, announced the names of the 
leading candidates in Tehran's 30 parliamentary seats. All were hard-liners led 
by Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, who is expected to be the next parliament speaker. 

   Looming over the election was the threat of the new coronavirus. Many voters 
headed to the polls with face masks on, and some pharmacies ran out of masks 
and hand sanitizer amid the election-day rush.

   So far, there have been five coronavirus deaths from among the 28 confirmed 
cases in Iran, including two deaths on election day. Another fatality was 
reported on Saturday, although the exact time was not specified.

   By comparison, the 2016 parliamentary election saw 62% turnout. On Friday, 
election officials kept the polls open an extra five hours in an effort to 
boost turnout. Iran's leadership and state media had urged people to show up 
and vote, with some framing it as a religious duty.

   A parliament stacked with hard-liners could tilt public policy debates away 
from engagement with the United States. Tensions between Washington and Tehran 
have been high since 2018, when President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from 
Iran's nuclear agreement with world powers, and imposed sanctions that have 
forced Iran's economy into recession. Iranians have seen the price of basic 
goods skyrocket, inflation and unemployment rise and the local currency plummet.

   The economic woes faced by ordinary Iranians fueled anti-government protests 
in November. International human rights groups say at least 300 people were 
killed in those protests.

   A more hard-line parliament could also favor expanding the budget of the 
Revolutionary Guard Corps. The Guard's elite Quds Force, responsible for the 
Islamic Republic's campaigns abroad, was formerly led by Iran's top general, 
Qassem Soleimani. He was killed by the U.S. airstrike in January.

   That strike led to a tense confrontation in which Iranian forces 
accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane after it took off from 
Tehran, killing all 176 people on board. Most of those killed were Iranian.

   The shoot-down, and attempts by officials to initially conceal the cause of 
the crash, sparked public anger and protests in Iran.

   A more hard-line parliament could lead to increased social and cultural 
restrictions as well. Pressure from conservatives in recent years has led 
authorities to ban concerts and block Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. 


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