Voting in Iran's parliamentary election began early Friday, with thousands of Iranians queuing at polling stations set up across the country to elect 290 members of the country's legislature known as the 'Majlis.'
Polling opened at 8:00 a.m. local time on Friday and is due to close at 6:00 p.m. Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar said earlier in the month that nearly 48.2 million Iranians, out of a total population of about 74 million, were eligible to cast their ballots in the elections.
Iranian authorities are urging voters to turn up in large numbers. The country's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who voted at a polling station in Tehran early on Friday, was later quoted as saying by the Iranian media that a high turnout would play an effective role in maintaining Iran's security and prestige.
According to the official Press TV, Khamenei emphasized that voting was the right as well as duty of all the Iranian people. He also stressed that elections played a determining role for the country and the Islamic establishment.
The election is the first after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was returned to power in the disputed 2009 presidential elections. Thousands had taken to the streets after the election, which the Opposition alleged was rigged in favor of Ahmadinejad.
But the protests were effectively suppressed by the Iranian government with the support of Khamenei as well as hardline politicians and Islamic clerics. Many of the leaders of the Opposition Green Movement are still under detention, prompting their supporters to boycott the Majlis polls.
Since the 2009 elections, Ahmadinejad has fallen out with Khamenei. The ensuing power struggle between the two principal leaders has seen many lawmakers and politicians, who were earlier allied to the Iranian President, abandon Ahmadinejad in recent months and pledge their allegiance to Khamenei.
The Majlis vote is considered by many in Iran as an extension of the power struggle between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, who is prevented by the country's Constitution from seeking a third term in office in the 2013 presidential elections.
The outcome of the Majlis vote is bound to have a bearing on the forthcoming presidential election, which would decide whether the Khamenei camp or Ahmadinejad's supporters would have more say in the country's future governance.
But the outcome of the vote is not expected to change Iran's defiant stand on its controversial nuclear program. Although Iran insists that its nuclear activity is intended for peaceful civilian purposes, the West suspects it just a cover up for the Islamic Republic's nuclear weapon ambitions.
Nevertheless, Tehran argues that it has the right to develop and acquire nuclear technology for peaceful purposes as it is a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and a member of the IAEA.
Iran has already survived four sets of sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council over Tehran's continued refusal to halt its uranium enrichment program.
The oil-rich country has also been hit by separate sanctions imposed by the United States, European Union, Canada and Britain in recent months. The West hopes that the recent sanctions targeting the country's central bank as well as its oil sector would force Iran to rejoin the stalled nuclear negotiations with the six world powers.
by RTT Staff Writer
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