Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli says 42.57 percent of voter turnout in parliamentary election is "acceptable" as polls took place amid bad weather, air disaster, and coronavirus outbreak.

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani casts his ballot in the parliamentary elections at the interior ministry in Tehran, Iran, Friday, February 21, 2020
In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani casts his ballot in the parliamentary elections at the interior ministry in Tehran, Iran, Friday, February 21, 2020 (AP)

Iran's interior ministry said voter turnout in recent parliamentary elections stood at 42.57 percent, the first time it dipped below the 50 percent mark since the country's 1979 revolution that toppled then pro-American ruler, shah of Iran.

Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said the lowest turnout from the vote was in the capital, Tehran, with just 25.4 percent of eligible voters casting ballots. 

He said the country voted under less-than-ideal circumstances, but nevertheless, "we believe that the number of votes and the turnout is absolutely acceptable."

Fazli said the participation rate was "acceptable" for Iran after it experienced bad weather, an air disaster, a coronavirus outbreak and other incidents in the lead-up to Friday's election.

Limited options

Voters also had limited options on 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.

Iranian hardliners also won all 30 parliamentary seats in the capital, Tehran, state TV reported on Sunday, but officials have yet to announce the voter turnout from the nationwide elections two days ago.

State TV also said that former Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, a top contender for the post of parliamentary speaker, was the top winner in the capital, with more than 1.2 million votes. 

Coronavirus threat

Iran's supreme leader early Sunday accused enemy "propaganda" of trying to dissuade people from voting by amplifying the threat of the coronavirus. 

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.

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

On the eve of the vote in Iran, the Trump administration sanctioned five election officials and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed the election as a "sham."

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

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

'We've to shake hands with them'

Meanwhile, the official IRNA news agency said ballot counting had come to an end on Sunday, with 201 out of 208 constituencies decided. The seven relatively smaller constituencies will be decided in a run-off election later in April.

Also on Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif joked about shaking hands with his visiting Austrian counterpart Alexander Schallenberg and told reporters: "We have to shake hands with them, don't worry I don't have coronavirus."

In his meeting with the Austrian foreign minister, President Hassan Rouhani quipped that US sanctions on Iran "are like the coronavirus" causing more fear than the reality, the official IRNA news agency reported. He urged Europe to resist US pressure. 

Schallenberg is in Tehran amid efforts by European countries to keep alive Iran's nuclear agreement with world powers. Regional tensions have steadily risen since the US withdrew from the landmark deal.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies