On the eve of the general election for Iran’s 290-member parliament, the mood is heavy in the cold and rainy capital as the polls come amid escalating political tensions, economic struggles and concerns over public apathy.
The country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani have called for a high voter turnout, and asked the public to come together as they did during recent crises including the United States’ assassination of General Qassem Soleimani in January.
Nearly 58 million people are eligible to vote on preselected lists of candidates for Iran’s 11th 290-seat parliament.
Here is what you need to know about the vote:
Why is this election important?
The vote is key, as it is the first parliamentary election after the US withdrew from the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers in 2018 and reimposed sanctions against Tehran, including on its oil and banking sectors.
The financial measures put Iran’s economy into a tailspin, with inflation reaching 33.5 percent and growth declining by at least six percent last year.
The vote will therefore determine the direction of the country as it grapples with a worsening economic crisis and a punishing “maximum pressure” campaign by the US. It is seen as a test of Rouhani’s popularity and his reformist-moderate camp, which dominated parliament after voters handed them a parliamentary majority in 2016 on the back of the deal.
According to Tehran-based political commentator and analyst Mohammed Eslami, the vote will “reflect the way people want the government to approach the West after the breakdown [of] the deal”.
“It will tell whether people want more cooperation with [the] West, or with Russia, China and tapping into domestic potentials instead,” he said.
The vote also acts as a prelude to the presidential election that will be held next year.
“The results of this poll will reflect public temperament about who might be president next,” said Eslami. “If the next parliament is a conservative one, it will put pressure on Rouhani on domestic and external issues.”
But since all legislation passed by parliament has to then be approved by the Guardian Council of the Constitution, a powerful 12-member body that acts as the country’s constitutional watchdog, the extent to which it is effective is questionable.