TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranians will vote on Friday in a parliamentary election that is a contest between loyalists to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and allies of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Sidelined since a disputed presidential election in 2009, leading pro-reform groups are not taking part in the vote because they say it is not “free and fair.”
They are looking beyond this election to the presidential race next year instead.
Tightening international sanctions against Iran over its disputed nuclear program combined with rampant inflation and discontent over the 2009 vote result may boost turnout in the March 2 vote.
- Candidates for the 290-seat assembly were screened by government-run committees and the Guardian Council, a conservative body of clerics and jurists that checks hopefuls for commitment to Islam and their belief in the Velayat-e Faqih (the religious system of law).
- After the vetting process, some 3,200 candidates have been allowed to run out of about 5,395 who originally signed up.
- Iran has no tradition of disciplined party membership or detailed party platforms. Two main groups, both hardliners, have emerged. But some candidates are backed by more than one group and allegiances often shift.
The main groups are:
- THE UNITED FRONT OF PRINCIPLISTS: The biggest hardline group, which includes loyalists to Khamenei. This group is supported by the clerical establishment’s backbone - the elite Revolutionary Guards, powerful bazaar merchants and influential clerics. It is the group expected to win the most seats. Hardliners label themselves “principlist” for their loyalty to the ideals of the Islamic Republic.
- THE RESISTANCE FRONT: This hardline group is backed by Ahmadinejad supporters, who want the president to distance himself from the “deviant current,” that is believed to have attempted to undermine the role of the clergy in the Islamic state. This group is expected to gain more support in smaller towns and provincial areas.
- THE NATION’S VOICE: This small group is composed of staunch hardline critics of Ahmadinejad.
- Independent candidates in some cities may attract more support as the vote in such places will depend on the reputation of candidates and personal contacts with voters.
- There are about 48.2 million eligible voters, who must be over 18 years, in the country of 74 million people.
- All ballots will be counted manually so the final result may not be announced for three days, although partial results may appear sooner.
- Parliament does not determine policy in areas such as Iran’s disputed nuclear program, oil or foreign affairs. It has a bigger influence on economic policy.
- Loyalists to Khamenei are set to dominate parliament but legislators may be more critical of the president as factions jockey for position before the 2013 presidential race.
- The vote is being watched closely as it is the first nationwide election in Iran since the 2009 disputed re-election of Ahmadinejad that was followed by eight-months of street unrest. Iranian hardline rulers reject accusations by the pro-reform opposition leaders that the vote was rigged.
Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Andrew Osborn