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Iranians vote in parliament elections favoring conservatives

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranians voted for a new parliament Friday, with turnout seen as a key measure of support for Iran’s leadership as sanctions weigh on the economy and U.S. pressure isolates the country diplomatically.

The disqualification of more than 7,000 potential candidates, most of them reformists and moderates, raised the possibility of lower-than-usual turnout. Among those disqualified were 90 sitting members of parliament who had wanted to run for re-election.

Voting was extended for five hours, but there was no official announcement on turnout after the polls finally closed late Friday.

Initial results were expected to be announced Saturday. Presidential elections are expected to take place in 2021.

The election comes at a time of growing economic hardship for many in Iran. U.S. sanctions have strangled Iran’s ability to sell its oil abroad, forcing its economy into recession.

Also looming over the election is the threat of the new coronavirus. Many voters headed to the polls with face masks on.

Iranian health authorities on Friday confirmed two new deaths from the virus, which first emerged in China in December, bringing the total death toll in Iran to four, from among 18 confirmed cases. Authorities say all the cases have links with city of Qom, where the first two elderly patients died on Wednesday. Concerns over the spread of the virus prompted authorities in Iran to close all schools, universities and Shiite seminaries in Qom.

Iran’s leadership and state media haf urged people to show up and vote, with some framing it as a religious duty. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei cast his ballot at a mosque near his Tehran office shortly after polls opened at 8 a.m.

“Anyone who cares about Iran’s national interests should participate in the election,” he said. Earlier in the week, Khamenei said high voter turnout will thwart “plots and plans” by the U.S. and supporters of Israel against Iran.

After the disqualifications, around 7,000 candidates were left vying for a place in the 290-seat chamber across 208 constituencies.

Tensions with the United States could strengthen hard-liners by reinforcing long-held distrust of the West. A parliament stacked with hard-liners could favor expanding the budget for the Revolutionary Guard Corps, which has been sanctioned by the U.S. It could also tilt public policy debates toward hard-liners who are opposed to engagement with the U.S.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who had initially criticized the disqualification of so many moderate would-be candidates, cast his ballot on Friday and urged the public to stage another “victory” by voting in large numbers. “Our enemies will be disappointed more than before,” he said.

On the eve of the vote, the Trump administration ratcheted up its campaign of pressure on Iran by imposing sanctions on two senior officials of the Guardian Council, the body of clerics and judges that decides which candidates may run in elections.

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