Iranian President Hassan Rouhani casts his ballot Friday at a polling station in Tehran, Iran. Nationwide, citizens will to elect their representatives to the Islamic Consultative Assembly. Photo by Iran Presidential Office/EPA EFE
Feb. 21 (UPI) -- Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani were among the first to cast ballots Friday after polls opened for the nation's first parliamentary elections since the United States reimposed sanctions after abandoning the 2015 nuclear deal.
Voting stations opened Friday morning for Iran's 11th parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections, an event for which Khamenei urged widespread voter turnout to frustrate the United State and oppose its "evil intentions."
Some experts, however, predicted there would be low voter turnout -- particularly in view of a boycott proposed by some Iranians due to security crackdowns by Tehran over opposition to protests last fall against high fuel prices. Almost 58 million Iranians are eligible to vote.
"It will tell whether people want more cooperation with West, or with Russia, China and tapping into domestic potentials instead," Mohammad Eslami, a Tehran-based political analyst, told Al Jazeera, saying Friday's vote will "reflect the way people want the government to approach the West" after U.S. President Donald Trump backed out of the nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions.
After casting his ballot, Khamenei said a large turnout would send a clear message to the United States that it failed to divide the Iranian people.
"Elections neutralize many of the evil intentions that the Americans and the Zionists have in mind against Iran," he said. "These elections are the response to the chicanery and deception of Iran's enemies."
Friday's vote will fill parliamentary seats and Tehran's Assembly of Experts, which picks lawmakers to oversee Iran Islamic Revolutionary leaders.
Thursday, the United States imposed new sanctions against five senior members of Iran's Guardian Council, which supervises its electoral process, for preventing free and fair elections in Iran.
"They sanctioned us and I am now thinking what to do with all the money we have left in the U.S.," answered Ahmad Jannati, one of the five members named in the sanctions list. "We also can't go to the U.S. for Christmas celebrations any longer."
Friday, Guardian Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei dismissed the new punishment as "illegitimate" and a "sham."