TEHRAN - Iranian went to polling stations on Friday, March 2, to elect a new parliament, a vote likely to reinforce Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei over rival conservatives led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"Whenever there has been more enmity towards Iran, the importance of the elections has been greater," Khamenei, 72, said after casting his vote before television cameras, Reuters reported.
"The arrogant powers are bullying us to maintain their prestige. A high turnout will be better for our nation ... and for preserving security."
Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. (0430 GMT) and were due to close at 6 p.m., but might stay open longer.
Ballots are counted manually and Iran may have to wait three days for full results.
Voting was slow at first in affluent northern Tehran but picked up later.
Voters queued up in poorer parts of the capital and in provincial cities, Reuters witnesses said.
"I am here to support my establishment against the enemies' plot by voting," Mahboubeh Esmaili, 28, told Reuters as she held her baby in a queue of about 50 people at a central Tehran polling center.
The two main groups competing for parliament's 290 seats are the United Front of Principlists, which includes Khamenei loyalists, and the Resistance Front that backs Ahmadinejad.
Main opposition leaders Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, who ran for president in 2009, are not running in the ballot as they have been under house arrest for more than a year.
Iranian leaders were looking for a high turnout in Friday's election to ease an acute crisis of legitimacy caused by Ahmadinejad's re-election in 2009 when widespread accusations of fraud plunged the Islamic Republic into the worst unrest of its 33-year history.
Iran also faces economic turmoil compounded by Western sanctions over a nuclear program that has prompted threats of military action by Israel, whose leader meets US President Barack Obama in the White House on Monday.
Khamenei has told Iranians that their vote would be a "slap in the face for arrogant powers" such as the United States.
The elections are expected to strengthen Khamenei's over for rival conservatives loyal to Ahmadinejad.
"If the election outcome turns out to be what the people cast in the ballot boxes, God willing we will have a good parliament," former president Hashemi Rafsanjani said after voting in Tehran.
Ahmadinejad also voted, but state media did not immediately show this or report any comment he might have made.
Ahmadinejad, a blacksmith's son, has long appealed to Iran's rural poor with his humble image and cash handouts from state funds, but spiraling prices have dented his popularity.
Energy and food imports have been hit by sanctions aimed at forcing Iran to halt sensitive nuclear work that the West suspects is a cover for a drive to build atomic bombs. Tehran says it has only peaceful aims, such as generating electricity.
Prices of staple goods, many of them imported, have soared because the Iranian rial's value has sunk as sanctions on the financial and oil sectors begin to bite.
Ahmadinejad's critics accuse him of making things worse for low-income Iranians, saying his decision to replace food and fuel subsidies with direct monthly payments since 2010 has fuelled inflation, officially running at around 21 percent.
Ahmadinejad enjoyed solid support from Khamenei in the months of "Green Movement" protests that followed the 2009 election, but the two men have fallen out badly since then.
For Khamenei, the parliamentary election could reinforce his grip on power against a president seen as trying to undermine the clergy's central role in Iran's complex political hierarchy.
Ahmadinejad and his allies have alarmed Khamenei's conservative camp by emphasizing nationalist themes of Iranian history and culture over the Islamic ruling system introduced by revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Khamenei succeeded Khomeini, who died in 1989.
Some Iranian media reports said Ahmadinejad hoped to secure the election of his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaie, to succeed him.
Khamenei will want to install one of his own loyalists to prevent further divisions within the ruling elite.
Powerful establishment groups, including senior clerics, the elite Revolutionary Guards and bazaar merchants, formed an alliance to back Khamenei loyalists in the parliamentary vote.
The rift between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad broke into the open in April 2011 when the Supreme Leader forced the president to reinstate an intelligence minister he had insisted on firing.
Khamenei has kept up the pressure in recent months. Dozens of Ahmadinejad allies have been detained or sacked for links to the "deviant current".Most strikingly, the president's media adviser, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, has received a one-year jail term for insulting Khamenei, which an appeal court upheld on Wednesday.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net