Iranians start voting for new parliament, Assembly of Experts

TEHRAN Iranians went to the polls on Friday in parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections, seen as a contest between hardliners entrenched in power and allies of pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani seeking to expand their influence.

    “Voting has started in Iran. Millions of Iranians will vote all around the country,” state TV said.

The 290-seat parliament vote will have scant impact on Iran’s foreign policy, in which Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say, but could strengthen Rouhani’s hand before next year’s presidential vote. The 88-member Assembly will select Khamenei’s successor.

Both bodies are currently in the hands of hardliners.

The contest pits supporters of Rouhani, who championed last year’s nuclear deal with world powers and is likely to seek a second presidential term next year, against conservatives deeply opposed to detente with Western powers.

Both sides have called for a strong turnout. Most reformist candidates have been barred by a hardline clerical vetting body, along with many moderates, but their supporters have called on voters to back Rouhani’s allies and keep the conservatives out.

Results are hard to predict, with conservatives traditionally doing well in rural areas and young urbanites favoring more reformist candidates.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by William Maclean)

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