TEHRAN (Dispatches) -- Iran’s week-long parliamentary election campaign started on Thursday at a time when relations with Washington are at their worst since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and anti-American sentiments are at the highest level following U.S. assassination of General Qassem Soleimnai.
As many as 7,150 candidates are running for parliamentary elections on Feb. 21 after the Guardian Council, which must approve candidates, endorsed their qualifications.
Top authorities, including Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani, have called for a high turnout to ensure the country’s unity and strength in the face of a hostile American government.
Ayatollah Khamenei has said the next parliament is no place for those scared of speaking out against foreign enemies. He has said a lively vote will guarantee the nation’s security and contribute to efforts towards resolving the problems.
President Rouhani has said through their electoral turnout, the Iranian people have to take a firm and united stand against the United States and its allies trying to undermine the country’s integrity.
Tensions with the United States have spiked since 2018, when President Donald Trump withdrew from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers and reimposed sanctions.
On Jan. 3, Trump ordered the assassination of Iran’s most prominent military commander, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, in Baghdad, which led to the Islamic Republic retaliating against U.S. targets in Iraq on Jan. 8.
Some 58 million Iranians out of 83 million are eligible to vote in the 11th round of parliamentary elections since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, three million of whom will be first-time voters. Of those eligible to cast, 50.13% are men and 49.87% are women.
With principlists anticipating a big win, reformists are struggling to mobilize their supporters, who are disappointed with President Rouhani’s performance.
In Tehran, which accounts for 30 seats in the assembly, principlist candidates are headed by Muhammad
Bagher Qalibaf, a former mayor of the capital.
Interior Minister Abdol-Reza Rahmani-Fazli said on Thursday inspection teams assigned by his ministry are comprehensively monitoring the electoral process against any potential fraudulent activity.
Last year, the parliament objected to a motion to increase the number of the elective seats, keeping it at 290. The elections are held every four years.
According to the interior minister, more than 91 percent of the hopefuls have been approved by the Guardian Council.