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article imageIran defends record low turnout in general election

By Abhik Kumar Chanda (AFP)     Feb 23, 2020 in World

Iran on Sunday reported its lowest turnout in a general election since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, after a poll in which half of the candidates were barred.

The final results of Friday's vote were due to be released two days after it was held on the heels of the confirmation of novel coronavirus cases in the country.

Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli announced the participation rate was 42.6 percent -- the lowest in four decades.

"We held these elections when there were various incidents in the country: we had bad weather, there was this coronavirus disease, there was the plane crash," he said, referring to the January 3 downing of a Ukrainian airliner which killed 176 people.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei lauded the people's 'huge participation&...
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei lauded the people's 'huge participation' in the election, despite voter apathy marking the polls

He said that in such a scenario "the turnout rate seems perfectly acceptable for us."

A low participation had been widely forecast, as a conservative-dominated electoral watchdog disqualified about half of the 16,000-odd candidates, mostly moderates and reformists.

Conservatives took an early lead in the vote count on Saturday, according to an unofficial tally, in a blow to moderate conservative President Hassan Rouhani.

They won 191 of the parliament's 290 seats, according to Fars news agency.

Reformists were a distant second at 16, it said, adding independents had won 34 seats.

- 'Negative propaganda' -

Voter apathy marked the polls, but Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday lauded the people's "huge participation" despite what he termed "negative propaganda" by foreign media.

It "began a few months ago and grew larger approaching the election and in the past two days, under the pretext of this illness," he said, according to a televised extract of his speech.

"Their media did not miss the slightest opportunity to discourage people from voting. (Our enemies) are even opposed to any election by the Iranian people," the leader was quoted as saying on his official website.

Iran on Sunday reported three new coronavirus deaths, taking its toll to eight -- the highest in any country outside China. It said there were 43 COVID-19 virus infections nationwide.

Authorities ordered the closure of schools, universities and other educational centres in 14 of Iran's 31 provinces from Sunday and said Tehran could be under quarantine, if necessary.

Art events, concerts and film shows have been banned for a week across the country.

Over the past 24 hours, four new infections surfaced in Tehran, seven in the holy city of Qom -- where the country's first infections emerged -- two in Gilan and one each in Markazi and Tonekabon, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said.

"We are on the frontlines, we need help," the head of Qom's medical sciences university, Mohammadreza Ghadir, said on state television.

"If I can say one thing, it is help Qom."

- Free treatment -

Iran's health minister, Saeed Namaki, said the treatment of COVID-19 cases would be free.

"In every city, one hospital will be dedicated to treating coronavirus cases," he said, adding that this number would be greater in bigger cities like the capital.

Tehran's city hall has ordered the closure of snack shops and water fountains in metro stations, officials said.

Iran's health minister  Saeed Namaki  said the treatment of COVID-19 cases would be free
Iran's health minister, Saeed Namaki, said the treatment of COVID-19 cases would be free

Tehran municipality spokesman Gholamreza Mohammadi said buses and underground trains were being disinfected.

Mohsen Hashemi, head of Tehran's municipal council, said, "If the number of infections increases in Tehran, the whole city will be quarantined."

Posters were also put up across the sprawling city of eight million on Sunday, asking people not to shake hands as part of a coronavirus prevention campaign.

Iran's cyberpolice meanwhile warned that anyone putting "fake clips" online related to the virus would be punished.

The World Health Organization has expressed concern over the speed at which COVID-19 has spread in Iran, as well as it being exported from the Islamic republic to other countries, including Lebanon.

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