Iran supreme leader says voting is a ‘religious duty’
Clerics have disqualified thousands of candidates

Iran supreme leader says voting is a ‘religious duty’

Participation in Friday’s general election necessary to combat enemies’ ‘propaganda,’ Khamenei tells Iranians in televised address

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks in a meeting with army's air force and air defense staff, in Tehran, Iran, February 8, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks in a meeting with army's air force and air defense staff, in Tehran, Iran, February 8, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s supreme leader said Tuesday it is a “religious duty” for people to vote in this week’s general election and strengthen the Islamic Republic against the “propaganda” of its enemies.

“Participating in elections and voting… is a religious duty, not just a national or revolutionary duty,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a speech, parts of which were aired on state television.

“Elections nullify many of the vicious plots the Americans have in their minds and Zionists have in their hearts against the country,” he said, referring to Israel.

Iranians are set to elect a new parliament on Friday, with conservatives expected to make a resurgence amid predictions of a low turnout and as many reformist and moderate candidates have been barred from running by the regime’s Guardian Council.

The council, made up of six clerics appointed by the supreme leader and six lawyers selected by the judiciary, disqualified more than half of the 14,444 hopefuls.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani walks past a portrait of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as he arrives for a news conference in the capital Tehran, on February 16, 2020. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

The move threatens the thin majority of President Hassan Rouhani’s alliance in parliament.

Friday’s election comes after months of domestic turmoil and steeply escalating tensions between Iran and the United States.

In November, nationwide demonstrations over gas price hikes turned violent before being crushed in a deadly crackdown.

Tensions with Washington have risen since 2018 when US President Donald Trump withdrew from a landmark nuclear agreement and reimposed crippling sanctions.

But they have never come as close to a direct confrontation as in the past seven months, when it has happened twice, most recently after the US killed prominent Iranian general Qassem Soleimani on January 3.

Mourners attend a funeral ceremony for Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and his comrades, who were killed in Iraq in a US drone strike, in the city of Kerman, Iran, January 7, 2020 (Erfan Kouchari/Tasnim News Agency via AP)

In his Tuesday speech, Khomeini acknowledged the Soleimani assassination “was a difficult event,” but insisted it “brought many nations to Iran’s side.”

That “deep support,” he claimed, “shows the profound strategic strength of the Islamic revolution. God granted us victory even in an event that appeared so terrible at first glance.”

That “victory” may be a reference to Iran’s counter-strike, a barrage of missiles fired by Iranian forces on January 8 targeting US troops in Iraq.

Iran had been on high alert for US retaliation that day when it shot down a Ukrainian airliner in Tehran, killing all 176 people on board.

The downing of the Boeing 737, which the armed forces later admitted was accidental, sparked more protests that turned political.

People and rescue teams amid bodies and debris after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers that was accidentally shot down by Iranian forces near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran, January 8, 2020. (Rouhollah VAHDATI/ISNA/AFP)

Khamenei said the election would show that Iran’s enemies had failed to divide the nation.

“Watch how the people favor the election despite the enemies’ insistence on distancing the people from the system,” the supreme leader said.

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