Low voter turnout in Iran
Maariv Int'l, Israel
22 Feb 2004
After disqualifying their liberal rivals extremists take control of parliament as nation votes with its feet in protest over rigged elections
The disqualified reformists can claim a moral victory in Irans rigged elections, as the voters heeded the reformists call to boycott what had become a farce.
The official government figures put voter turnout at 43.29 percent, a drop of 25% compared to the 67.2% turnout registered in the 2000 elections. Reformists say the turnout was even lower, about 40%.
An especially low turnout was registered in greater Teheran, a reformist stronghold. Estimates are the turnout in the capital was under 30%.
The conservative extremists will take control of the new Majlis, after 2,400 reform candidates were barred from running by the Council of Guardians, a non-elected body controlled by the conservatives.
Despite the boycott and lack of viable opposition, the conservatives are still 36 seats short of a majority, having so far won 110 seats.
With the ballot weighted with conservatives, coupled with the reformist boycott, Islamic hard-liners were likely to win from the start. Voter turnout was the real drama in Saturday's race.
Conservatives hoped people would ignore the boycott, showing the strength of the Islamic state 25 years after the revolution that ousted the secular, pro-Western shah. Reformists hoped low turnout would strengthen their drive for openness and accountability.
In the 2000 elections, hard-liners lost control of the parliament for the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. But when the next legislature convenes in June, they should have a comfortable majority.
A victory for conservatives also consolidates hard-line control at a sensitive time in the Middle East. In Iraq, Shiite Muslims are pressing for early elections and look to predominantly Shiite Iran for backing. The United States and its allies, meanwhile, are questioning Iran's denials about seeking nuclear arms technology.
More than 46 million people ages 15 and over were eligible to vote. Voting was extended for four hours in an attempt to get every last ballot.
State television and radio broadcast a nonstop series of reports and appeals aimed at stirring voters. Senior Islamic clerics described voting as a religious duty. http://www.maarivintl.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=article&articleID=3343