Iran’s leader says fears of new virus used to stifle voting

TEHRAN, IRAN (AP) — Officials in Iran haven’t announced the voter turnout from parliamentary elections two days ago, but yesterday the country’s supreme leader accused enemy “propaganda” of trying to dissuade people from voting by amplifying the threat of the coronavirus.

A low turnout could signal widespread dissatisfaction with Iran’s clerical rulers and the system they preside over. Iranian officials usually release turnout figures a day after elections.

A range of crises has beset Iran in the past year, including widespread anti-government protests last November and United States (US) sanctions piling pressure on the plunging economy.

In remarks from his office in Tehran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed the “negative propaganda” of Iran’s enemies for trying to discourage people from voting in Friday’s elections.

“Their media did not ignore the tiniest opportunity for discouraging people and resorting to the pretext of diseases and the virus,” he said.

Medical staff checking passengers arriving from Iran in the airport in Najaf, Iraq. PHOTO: AP

Iran reported its first case of the virus two days before the national polls, and eight deaths from the illness since then. That’s the highest death toll from the virus outside of China, where the outbreak first emerged a couple months ago.

Iran has confirmed 28 cases in total in at least four different cities, including the capital, Tehran, where some pharmacies have already run out of masks and hand sanitiser.

Schools were shut down in Tehran and four other cities for two days, starting yesterday, to prevent the spread of the virus. Authorities have also suspended football matches and stopped shows in movie theaters and other venues.

Officials across Iran encouraged people to vote in the days leading up to the election, even as concerns over the virus’ spread began to rise.

Voters had limited options on last Friday’s ballot, as more than 7,000 potential candidates had been disqualified, most of them reformists and moderates. Among those disqualified were 90 sitting members of Iran’s 290-seat Parliament who had wanted to run for re-election.