Iranians vote in parliamentary election runoff
TEHRAN -- Iranians cast their ballots at polling stations across the country Friday in a second round of runoff elections to decide 65 remaining seats in the 290-seat Majlis, or parliament.
Images broadcast live on Iranian state TV showed lines of voters waiting at polling stations. In Tehran, voters cast ballots for 25 seats.
The Iranian parliament does not hold executive power but it can still carry weight in the selection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's successor next year. The new parliament is scheduled to start its session later this month.
Conservative rivals of Ahmadinejad won a majority of seats in the first round of voting, held in early March, and they are expected to do well in Friday's vote.
Hamid Hossian, 40, said he was voting for opponents of Ahmadinejad because he felt the president hadn't handled economic issues well.
"Ahmadinejad made the country unstable and has failed to fix the soaring prices," he said.
Political observers say that while opponents of Ahmadinejad are gaining ground, it is hard to predict the parliament's future since there is a chance that some conservative candidates -- many of them fresh candidates -- may switch sides in the coming months depending on the dynamics of the domestic political power struggle and international pressures.
Ahmadinejad's power has been weakened and his allies have been removed from key posts since last year, when he was perceived as defying the authority of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all state matters in the Islamic Republic.
Khamenei cast his ballot in Tehran on Friday in a ceremony attended by journalists. After passing through checkpoints and tight security checks, reporters were offered fruit juice and small cakes. Khamenei put his ballot in the box and spoke of the importance of the elections and urged a high turnout in the vote.
"The nation should take the second round of the election as serious as the first one," he said.
The official voter turnout in the first election round on March 2 was around 67%, according to local media reports. It marked the first nationwide poll held in the Islamic Republic since the country's disputed 2009 presidential election.
Iran's runoff parliamentary elections appear to be mainly a competition between various conservative factions, since all of the hopefuls must be approved by Iran's powerful Guardian Council, the country's top legislative body. Several reformist leaders remain under house arrest more than a year after being detained, and others have discouraged their supporters from voting.
-- Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Alexandra Sandels in Beirut