Iranians voted on Friday, March 14, in an election which pitches hardliners against reformists. Victory for either side could have dramatic effects on the Islamic Republic's relations with the West.
Both sides have urged Iranians to vote in an attempt to keep their rivals out of power
Parliamentary elections ended on Friday night in Iran after 15 hours following the interior ministry's decision to extend the voting time five times from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. local time in response to what was proclaimed to be public demand.
The Iranian vote pitted the ruling ultra-conservative faction close to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against reformists close to former President Mohammad Khatami and a conservative faction headed by former chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani.
With a total of 4,400 candidates running for 290 seats and with votes being cast manually, the first results from the provinces were expected to be announced by Saturday noon, while results for the politically important Tehran constituency were not expected before Monday.
The first to vote was Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who asked the people to determine their political future by going to the polls.
Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani voted in the morning and called on the people to vote in order to strengthen the legislature's power.
Ahmadinejad's rivals urge public to vote
Rafsanjani is a fierce opponent of Ahmadinejad
"If you do not vote, then those whom you do not want will get into the parliament again," said the cleric who is a strong opponent of Ahmadinejad. "The new parliament should definitely increase its supervision [of the government's performance]," Rafsanjani added.
President Ahmadinejad cut short his state visit to Senegal to be in Tehran for the elections. Immediately after arrival, he rushed to the Lorzadeh mosque in south-eastern Tehran to cast his vote.
"Billions of eyes [in the world] are focused on us to see how we determine our political destiny by ourselves in these elections," Ahmadinejad said. „Many [Islamic] countries look for a model country [to follow] and have chosen Iran as their model," the president added.
The parliamentary elections are widely regarded as a test for Ahmadinejad and an assessment of his performance in the 30 months of his presidency.
Failure on economic reforms threatens president
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faces a referendum on his 30-month presidency
The main concern for voters is the economy as Ahmadinejad has failed to realize his economic reforms. Despite drastically increasing oil prices, inflation -- ranging between 20 to 30 percent -- is higher than before summer 2005.
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Mostafa Poumohammadi told Press TV that final results would be announced within three or four days, starting first with the smaller provinces and later the big cities.
The votes in the provinces are counted by hand. In the capital Tehran the counting has for the first time been computerized but there will be manual counting as well for reconfirmation.
Claims of high turnout go unconfirmed
Iranians tend to vote enthusiastically in elections
In Tehran, witnesses reported that a large number of people had gone to the polling stations in the southern part of the capital early on Friday, while in northern Tehran people usually prefer to vote in the afternoon.
The elections were being held one week before the Persian New Year [March 21] and many Iranians were still busy with New Year shopping and preparations, which might have a major impact on the turnout.
The interior ministry called the turnout so far "magnificent" and state media said that at least 60 percent of the electorate had so far voted. These turnout claims could not be confirmed by neutral observers.