Big Turnout in Crucial Elections  

Big Turnout in Crucial Elections  Big Turnout in Crucial Elections  

After a week of intensive campaigning, enthusiastic Iranians went to the polls in large numbers on Friday to pick their representatives to the 290-seat parliament and 88-member Assembly of Experts.

There were early signs of a heavy voter turnout, as long queues formed outside some polling stations in Tehran before the start of voting time.

Polls across the country opened at 8 a.m. local time and were scheduled to close at 6 p.m., but the period was extended several times, IRNA reported.

The parliamentary poll is widely believed to have the potential to reshape the country's political landscape, which pits principlists set to maintain their majority in the Majlis against their government-allied reformist rivals who are seeking a comeback.

In the country of 80 million, about 55 million people with over 18 years of age, including more than three millions of first-timers, were eligible to cast their votes in one of the 120,000 ballot boxes across 31 provinces.

There were 207 constituencies for the Majlis vote and 31 for the Assembly of Experts, a clerical body that elects and oversees the Leader of the Islamic Revolution.

Lawmakers are elected to office every four years, while theologians of the assembly are selected every eight years.

According to electoral laws, the Interior Ministry is in charge of conducting elections and the Guardians Council is tasked with vetting the candidates and supervising the event.

After examining the qualifications of a record 12,123 individuals registered in the parliamentary poll, the council announced 6,233 candidates were allowed to enter the race.

For the assembly, the qualifications of 161 were approved by the council, from among the 795 individuals registered.

The would-be lawmakers had one week from Feb. 18 to launch their campaigns, while assembly hopefuls began canvassing for votes from Feb. 11. The heated election campaigns came to a close on Thursday.

This is while Mohammad Hossein Moqimi, the head of the Interior Ministry's Election Headquarters, said on Thursday 4,844 hopefuls would contest the 290 seats, indicating that 1,385 candidates had withdrawn.

Moqimi said the number of candidates in the assembly vote had also fallen from 161 to 159.

***Boosting National Glory  

Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei cast his ballots early in the day.

After voting, Ayatollah Khamenei said voting was both an obligation and a right for the nation, adding that taking part in elections "is a big and good act, which is always of significance, and under certain circumstances, becomes more important."

The Leader further said, "As I have already said, all the Iranian people, everyone who loves Iran and the Islamic Republic and the national glory, dignity and greatness, must participate in elections."

Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei noted that the outcome of participation in elections is a national honor and independence.

"We have enemies who have a covetous eye [on our nation] and [therefore] elections must be such that they would disappoint and dishearten the enemy," he said.

President Hassan Rouhani lauded the Iranian nation for the enthusiastic presence in the polls, after casting his ballots at the Interior Ministry on Friday morning.

"Election is a symbol of political independence of a country. By voting, people decide the future of their country," he said.

Rouhani said full security prevails all over the country during the elections and the turnout has been great.

"All political parties and factions contesting the elections are indeed winners," he said, adding that results of the elections will be respected as the majority decision of all people.

Rouhani stressed that the government would spare no effort to protect people's votes and ensure healthy and legitimate elections.

In an interview with state TV, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said on Thursday opinion polls and estimates showed the turnout would be around 70%.

Election results from outside Tehran are expected within 24 hours of the close of elections, but the count in the capital, where nearly 6.5 million citizens are eligible to elect 30 lawmakers, will take three days.