Election takes place amid escalating political tensions, economic struggles and concerns about low participation.
Iran has started counting votes a day after its parliamentary election in which conservative allies of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are likely to gain a sizeable majority based on partial results.
Iranian authorities have yet to announce the turnout in the February 21 election for the 290-seat parliament, but some early results announced by the Ministry of Interior indicated that the loyalists to Khamenei were set for gains.
“So far, 42 seats of the parliament had been won outright by candidates,” state television reported on Saturday.
It also announced the names of the leading candidates in Tehran’s 30 parliamentary seats. All were hardliners led by Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, who is expected to be the next parliament speaker.
“While the official results of the parliamentary elections have not been announced yet, it is likely that conservatives are more likely to get a majority in the parliament and it seem like it will be a landslide victory,” Abas Aslani, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Middle East Strategic Studies, told Al Jazeera.
He said this will be “very important in the months to come”, with a presidential election scheduled for next year.
“We already have the judiciary branch which is with the conservatives, and if the parliament goes more conservative, I think the executive branch, which is the presidency, they will be working very hard to get that too,” he added.
Nearly half of the 16,033 hopefuls in the election were barred by the Guardian Council, a conservative-dominated vetting body. Most of the disqualified candidates were moderates and reformists.
Iran’s rulers, who are under intense pressure from the United States over the country’s nuclear programme, need a high turnout to boost their legitimacy that was damaged after nationwide protests in November.
The demonstrations were met with a violent crackdown that deepened resentment over economic hardship and perceived corruption.
The spokesman for the watchdog Guardian Council, Abbasali Kadkhodai, predicted that the turnout would be about 50 percent, telling state television on Friday that the Iranian nation had disappointed its enemies by voting in large numbers.
The turnout was 62 percent in the 2016 parliamentary vote and 66 percent of people voted in 2012.
With Iran facing growing isolation on the global stage and discontent at home over the economy, the turnout is seen as a referendum on the establishment’s handling of the Islamic republic’s political and economic crises.
Voting took place amid the coronavirus outbreak that has so far killed five people in Iran, while the total number of infections stood at 28 on Saturday.
Effect on foreign policy
While the vote is unlikely to have a significant influence on foreign affairs or Iran’s nuclear policy, which are determined by Khamenei, a conservative parliament could potentially bolster hardliners in the 2021 contest for president and sway public policy debates away from engagement with the US.
“I think they [conservatives] will support Iran’s current and existing policies in the region,” Aslani told Al Jazeera. “But when it comes to the US, I think a more conservative parliament will oppose more direct negotiations at least for some time.”
The US’s 2018 withdrawal from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers and its reimposition of sanctions have hit Iran’s economy hard as Iranians call on their leaders to create better economic opportunities.
A more conservative parliament could also favour expanding the budget of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
President Donald Trump raised the stakes in his standoff with Tehran when Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani, who led the IRGC‘s elite Quds force, was killed in a US drone attack at Baghdad airport in January.