REPORTING FROM TEHRAN -- Subway stations in the Iranian capital were festooned Friday with banners declaring "Voting is a divine duty," part of an aggressive get-out-the-vote campaign aimed at quashing an opposition boycott of parliamentary elections.
There has been quiet talk of a boycott among reformists in the "green movement" who rallied against suspected election fraud three years ago, leading to many of the movement's leaders being jailed or confined to their homes. Dozens of candidates were barred from running in the current elections, including most of the reformist contenders.
Countering the reformists' calls, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has painted Friday's voting as part of a showdown with the West, which has been upping pressure on Iran over its controversial nuclear program. Iranian media cast the elections like a religious ritual.
One young bride and groom told an Iranian news outlet that by casting their votes together in the poor outskirts of Tehran, they were attending "a holy place" to begin their shared life.
"We are here to announce our support of the Iran's holy Islamic Republic system, which owes a lot to the martyrs' blood," the young couple told the semi-official Fars News Agency.
The eagerness to allow voting even overcame the usual Iranian mores. A witness told The Times that he saw a young lady in northwest Tehran enter the polling station with a lap dog, which normally would be seized by police. Instead they simply looked at her with astonishment.
"As the young lady was going to vote and slap the faces of the enemies such as U.S.A and Israel, she and her lap dog were tolerated," said the witness, who requested anonymity out of concern his comments might anger the regime.
How many Iranians heeded the call to carry out their "divine duty" is still unclear. State television broadcast footage of long lines at polling stations in Tehran and the provinces, saying the massive turnout would disappoint the enemies of Iran.
Yet activity at a polling station at a girls high school in Tehran was slow on Friday morning, unlike years past when long lines trailed out the door.
The polls were opened promptly and kept open later than usual, until 8 p.m. Iranian officials said the hours were extended do deal with an overwhelming turnout.
Friday marked the first major election since the disputed presidential race three years ago, which sparked mass protests and a crackdown that has all but crushed the opposition.
Human rights groups have lamented an escalating wave of government repression leading up to the election, and the race had boiled down to a contest between hard-line Islamists eager to show their loyalty.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles and Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran
Photo: An Iranian woman casts her ballot at a Tehran mosque used as a polling station during parliamentary elections on Friday. Credit: Atta Kenare / AFP/Getty Images