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Iranian Jews cast votes in parliamentary elections

Iran’s Jewish community is one of four religious minorities with a designated seat in parliament; final results of election, which is likely to boost conservatives, expected Sunday

A Jewish Iranian woman casts her ballot at a polling station in the capital Tehran on February 21, 2020. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
A Jewish Iranian woman casts her ballot at a polling station in the capital Tehran on February 21, 2020. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Iranian Jews on Friday voted in elections for the country’s parliament.

Photographs from AFP showed Jewish voters casting ballots at what appeared to be a synagogue in Tehran.

Jews have one of five seats guaranteed for religious minorities. The others are reserved for Zoroastrians and Assyrian-Chaldean Christians, while Armenian Christians get two seats.

However, many Iranian Jews complain they are not treated equally under the law.

Iran had between 80,000 and 100,000 Jews before the 1979 Islamic Revolution but most have since fled, mainly to the United States, Israel and Europe. There are now only about 8,500, mostly in Tehran but also in Isfahan and Shiraz, major cities south of the capital.

Iranian leaders regularly call for Israel’s destruction and some have voiced Holocaust denial, most prominently former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

A Jewish Iranian man registers at a polling station in the capital Tehran on February 21, 2020. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Friday’s elections were expected to see conservatives tighten their grip on parliament, amid voter apathy after the disqualification of thousands of candidates.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had urged all Iranians to take part as he cast the first ballot in the election, saying that doing so would “guarantee the country’s national interests.”

The 11th parliamentary election since the Islamic Revolution comes after a surge in tensions between Tehran and Washington, and Iran’s accidental downing of a Ukrainian airliner that sparked anti-government protests.

Turnout was estimated at around 40 percent nationwide and 30% in Tehran at 6 p.m. local time, according to Fars news agency, close to the ultra-conservatives.

Fars said the official turnout figure would be released on Saturday, while results are not expected to be announced until Sunday.

Authorities announced schools will be closed Saturday in dozens of urban centers to allow for ballot counting.

Voters formed long lines in the morning at polling stations in south Tehran, where conservatives have a solid support base. Far fewer were seen waiting to vote in upmarket northern neighborhoods.

Jewish Iranian women show their voting cards at a polling station in the capital Tehran on February 21, 2020. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

The election coincided with an outbreak of the new coronavirus that authorities say has killed four people in the Islamic Republic this week.

One official accused Iran’s enemies of overplaying the spread of the disease in a bid to harm the credibility of the election.

Experts had predicted a low turnout that they said would serve the conservatives at the expense of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, re-elected in 2017 promising more freedoms and the benefits of engagement with the West.

Around half of the 16,033 hopefuls in the election were barred by the powerful Guardian Council, most of them moderates and reformists.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani casts his ballot in the parliamentary elections at the interior ministry in Tehran, Iran, Feb. 21, 2020. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Iran’s beleaguered president, who has come under fire over the sluggish economy, took another hit Friday as a multinational terrorism financing watchdog reinstated sanctions on the country.

Iran fell into a deep recession after US President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions following Washington’s unilateral withdrawal from a landmark nuclear deal in 2018.

In November, demonstrations over gasoline price hikes spread across Iran and turned violent before being crushed in a deadly crackdown.

Tehran and Washington have nearly gone to war twice in the past seven months, most recently after the US killed prominent Iranian general Qassem Soleimani on January 3.

Millions of people turned out to mourn his “martyrdom,” but that unity suffered a blow after Iran admitted it had on January 8 accidentally shot down a Ukrainian airliner, killing 176 people.

The final results of the election, for 290 parliamentary seats across 31 provinces, are not expected before Sunday.

As well as selecting parliamentarians, voters will choose replacements for deceased members of the Assembly of Experts, an 88-strong clerical body tasked with appointing and monitoring the supreme leader.

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