Friday, March 14, 2008

Iranians Vote for New Parliament; Few Surprises Expected

Iranians Vote for New Parliament; Few Surprises Expected
By VOA News
14 March 2008

pix: An Iranian man casts his ballot as others wait in background for Iran's parliamentary election in Tehran, Iran, 14 Mar 2008

Iranians are voting Friday in parliamentary elections, which are expected to keep power in the hands of the country's conservative faction.
More than 40 million eligible voters will cast ballots for 4,500 candidates nationwide competing for 290 seats in the parliament (the Majlis). But Iran's Guardian Council, a religious oversight group, disqualified 1,700 candidates, many of them reformists and opponents of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The Council said the rejected candidates did not display enough loyalty to Iran's Islamic system.
With so few reformists running, some analysts expect a low voter turnout. Key issues before the electorate include Iran's high inflation and unemployment, and how President Ahmadinejad deals with the West. Early results could begin coming in Saturday, but complete election returns are not expected for several days.
The VOA Middle East correspondent reports the election is largely a contest between two rival conservative factions, one more closely allied to Mr. Ahmadinejad and the other favoring a more pragmatic approach to issues such as Iran's dealings with the West over its nuclear program.
The Supreme National Security Council decreed that subjects such as Iran's nuclear program were off limits for public discussion; so many issues barely have been mentioned during campaigning. Instead, local or domestic matters, such as pollution, have been the focus in many districts.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.
Iran Elections: A Litmus Test for Ahmadinejad?
Voters in Iran go to the polls on Friday to choose a new parliament. The elections will pit conservative factions against one another for the body's 290 seats because many liberal reformist candidates have been disqualified from running.

Unlike some other countries in the Middle East, Iran has elections for parliament and president, and some room is allowed for political debate and discussion.
But the Islamic clerics of the Guardian Council, who have the power to disqualify candidates, have used their authority to rid the electoral field of most reformists in Friday's elections for the Majlis, or parliament. The Guardian Council rejected some 1,700 candidates, including some of the better-known leaders of Iran's reformist movement.
Middle East expert Anthony Cordesman, a former U.S. defense official now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says the disqualifications were targeted. "The factions, essentially, are factions among the Shi'ite clerical leadership and Revolutionary Guard under the supreme leader. This will be the most restrictive election by far for the Majlis," says Cordesman. "Only candidates who are conservative -- and very, very conservative -- are being allowed to run. Many, many people are being excluded who were allowed to run in the past."
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