Iran vote seen bolstering Ali Khamenei
Tehran, March 3, 2012
Iranians wrapped up a parliamentary election likely to reinforce Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's power over rival hardliners led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Iranian leaders were looking for a high turnout at Friday's poll to ease a crisis of legitimacy caused by Ahmadinejad's re-election in 2009, when widespread accusations of fraud plunged the Islamic Republic into the worst unrest of its 33-year history.
Iran also faces economic turmoil compounded by Western sanctions over a nuclear programme that has prompted threats of military action by Israel, whose leader meets US President Barack Obama in the White House on Monday.
The vote in Iran is only a limited test of political opinion since leading reformist groups stayed out of what became a contest between the Khamenei and Ahmadinejad camps.
"Whenever there has been more enmity towards Iran, the importance of the elections has been greater," Khamenei, 72, said after casting his vote before television cameras.
"The arrogant powers are bullying us to maintain their prestige. A high turnout will be better for our nation ... and for preserving security."
His hopes for wide participation received a boost when Iranian authorities had to delay the end of voting by five hours to let more people cast their ballot, closing polling stations at 11 pm (1930 GMT) on Friday.
Ballots are counted manually and Iranians may have to wait three days for full results.
The vote will have scant impact on Iran's foreign or nuclear policies, in which Khamenei already has the final say, but could strengthen the Supreme Leader's hand before the presidential vote next year. Ahmadinejad, 56, cannot run for a third term.
Iranians may be preoccupied with sharply rising prices and jobs, but it is Iran's supposed nuclear ambitions that worry the outside world. Western sanctions over the nuclear programme have hit imports, driving prices up and squeezing ordinary Iranians.
The election took place without the two main opposition leaders. Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, who ran for president in 2009, have been under house arrest for more than a year.
Karoubi's website, Sahamnews.org, said opposition groups and political prisoners urged people to shun this "sham election". No independent observers are on hand to monitor the voting or check the turnout figures that officials will announce.
State media briefly showed Ahmadinejad voting, apparently making no comment afterwards. The outgoing parliament is due to grill him next week on his handling of the economy and other issues - an unprecedented humiliation for an incumbent president, but one he may use to hit back at his foes.
Khamenei has told Iranians that their vote would be a "slap in the face for arrogant powers" such as the United States. - Reuters