TEHRAN (Dispatches) -- Iran’s new parliament convened on Wednesday after the Feb. 21 elections under strict health protocols and social distancing rules to ward off the coronavirus.
Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei addressed the inauguration, highlighting culture and economy as Iran’s most pressing issues, which require the highest of attention of the new parliament.
The ceremony was attended by President Hassan Rouhani, Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raeisi, and Major General Muhammad Baqeri, the chairman of the Chiefs of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces.
In his statement, the Leader said the new parliament is a testimony to the successful implementation of "Islamic democracy” in Iran.
Ayatollah Khamenei thanked the Iranian nation for their "diligence and motivation” in electing the new legislature and congratulated the parliamentarians on securing the nation’s approval.
Citing the late founder of the Islamic Republic, Imam Khomeini, the Leader said Majlis stands at the head of the country’s affairs.
The chamber, Ayatollah Khamenei said, is duty-bound to pave the way for the adoption of the laws that serve as the country’s path towards its desired "pinnacles and destinations”.
The Leader urged the lawmakers to bring into force "the right, apt, and workable” legislation that would empower "the country to attain its sublime goals”.
In order to correctly perform their duties, the lawmakers have to properly identify the country’s priorities through expert analysis, maintain their active engagement, and avoid misusing the position and resources that have been trusted with them, the Leader said.
The MPs, he added, should not allow harmful, personal, and factional affairs to interfere with their performance.
"You respectable representatives are the ones, who can grant Majlis a decent standing,” Ayatollah Khamenei said.
Ayatollah Khamenei also advised the parliament to place the main planks of the national economy — including employment, production, and the national currency’s value — high on its agenda.
"The general policies of the Resistance Economy serve as a credible guideline in this area,” the Leader said, referring to his trademark blueprint for the country’s development in the face of sanctions.
Many lawmakers wore masks and their temperatures were taken before entering the parliament building in downtown Tehran.
Lawmakers will vote on Thursday for a new speaker of the chamber to replace Ali Larijani. Front-runners for the job include former Tehran Mayor Muhammad-Baqer Qalibaf and Mustafa Mirsalim.
Rouhani urged Iranian lawmakers to "cooperate” with his government during the inaugural session of the new parliament following a February election swept by principlists.
The parliament, a legislative chamber that shapes debate in Iran, had been closed for six weeks until April 7 as part of measures aimed at curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus.
"I hope that in the year that remains for this government we will be able to cooperate and work together,” Rouhani said in the address before the newly formed parliament.
Iran held a legislative election on February 21 and is scheduled to hold a presidential poll in around 12 months.
The 11th legislature since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 opened as the country’s economy gradually returns to normal from the virus outbreak.
In a sign that the fight against the virus is still far from over, however, a seat was left vacant between each deputy.
Rouhani, who is in the final year of his second and final term, called on MPs, collectively and individually, to place the "national interest above special interests”, "party interests” or "constituency interests”.
"The new parliament seeks engagement with the government until the end of its final year while also trying its very best for an improved economic situation,” MP Muhammadreza Ahmadi-Sangar told the Tasnim news agency.
The president defended the performance of his government, which has faced criticism over the handling of the country.
In his speech, Rouhani again denounced what he called the "psychological war” and "economic and medical terrorism” that he said the United States was waging against his country.
But he said the Iranian nation had stood up against "the enemy” and that its resistance had won.
The president praised his government’s performance in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak as a source of "great pride”, adding that Iran was "among the countries that have succeeded”.
Iran’s Health Ministry said on Wednesday that the death toll in Iran had reached 7,564 with 141,591 confirmed cases. All 268 lawmakers who attended the opening ceremony had tested negative for the coronavirus.
"We are among the countries that have been successful in their fight against this dangerous virus,” Rouhani said.
Because of the outbreak, the lawmakers postponed a traditional visit to the mausoleum of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Imam Khomeini, IRNA news agency reported.
After 69 days, Iran reopened holy sites and shrines across the country but pilgrims have to respect social distancing regulations when entering.
Dozens of Iranian officials have died of the coronavirus, including two lawmakers elected in February.