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Iranian state media says hard-liners are ahead in the capital, Tehran, as vote counting progresses in Iran’s March 1 elections, which were marred by what appears to be a record-low turnout prompted by voter apathy and calls for a boycott by reformists.

The elections for a new parliament, or Majlis, and a new Assembly of Experts, which elects Iran’s supreme leader, were the first since the deadly nationwide protests that erupted following the September 2022 death while in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who had been detained for an alleged Islamic dress-code violation.

Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency said 1,960 from 5,000 ballots in Tehran have been counted so far, with hard-liners ahead as expected.

An alliance led by hard-liner Hamid Rasaee won 17 out of 30 seats in Tehran, state radio reported, while the incumbent parliamentary speaker, conservative Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf also obtained a new seat.

The turnout appears to be at a record low, according to unofficial accounts, despite the officials’ repeated appeals to Iranians to show up en masse at the polls as Iran’s theocracy scrambles to restore its legitimacy in the wake of a wave of repression in 2022 and amid deteriorating economic conditions.

The Mehr news agency, citing unofficial results, reported that voter turnout in Tehran was only 24 percent.

Iran’s rulers needed a high turnout to repair their legitimacy following the unrest, but many Iranians said they would not vote in “meaningless” elections in which more than 15,000 candidates were running for the 290-seat parliament.

State media reported that the turnout was “good.” Official surveys before the election, however, suggested that only some 41 percent of eligible Iranians would come out to vote.

The Hamshahri newspaper said on March 2 that more than 25 million people, or 41 percent of eligible voters, had turned out, thus confirming the official survey.

If the figure is confirmed, it will be the lowest election turnout in Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 that brought the current theocracy to power, despite officials twice extending voting hours to allow late-comers to cast ballots.

The pro-reform newspaper Ham Mihan published an opinion piece titled The Silent Majority, reporting a turnout of some 40 percent.

Shortly afterwards, however, the title of the piece was changed to Roll Call without any explanation, which commenters on social media networks blamed on pressure exerted on the newspaper by authorities.

So far, the lowest turnout, 42.5 percent, was registered in the February 2020 parliamentary elections, while in 2016, the turnout was some 62 percent.

As the voting concluded, the United States made clear that the international community was aware that the results of the poll would not reflect the will of the Iranian people.

“As some Iranians vote today in their first parliamentary election since the regime’s latest violent crackdown, the world knows the Iranian people do not have a true say at the ballot box,” U.S. Deputy Special Envoy for Iran Abram Paley wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Ahead of the vote, prominent figures, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi, said they would boycott the elections, labeling them as superficial and predetermined.

Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s first reformist president, was among the critics who did not vote on March 1.

Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former deputy interior minister, has also voiced his refusal to vote, criticizing the supreme leader’s indifference to the country’s crises.

Voter apathy, along with general dissatisfaction over living standards and a clampdown on basic human rights in Iran, has been growing for years.

Even before Amini’s death, which sparked massive protests and the Women, Life, Freedom movement, unrest had rattled Iran for months in response to declining living standards, wage arrears, and a lack of insurance support.

In a last-ditch effort to encourage a high turnout, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said after casting his ballot in Tehran that voting would “make friends happy and ill-wishers unhappy.”

While domestically attention is mostly focused on the parliamentary elections, it is perhaps the Assembly of Experts polls that are more significant.

The 88-seat assembly, whose members are elected for eight-year terms, is tasked with appointing the next supreme leader. Given that Khamenei is 84, the next assembly may end up having to name his successor.

Analysts and activists said the elections were “engineered” because only candidates vetted and approved by the Guardian Council were allowed to run. The council is made up of six clerics and six jurists who are all appointed directly and indirectly by Khamenei.

In dozens of audio and written messages sent to RFE/RL’s Radio Farda from inside Iran, many said they were opting against voting because the elections were “meaningless” and likely to consolidate the hard-liners’ grip on power.

With reporting by Reuters
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