Ballots are being counted in Iran's February 21 parliamentary elections in a vote that is certain to favor conservative candidates following the disqualification of thousands of reformists or relative moderates in advance of the poll.
Initial results are expected on February 22 after authorities three times extended voting by a total of five hours to allow more people to cast ballots. Final results are expected a day later.
All of those standing for election were prescreened by a group of hard-line Islamic clerics who disqualified some 9,000 potential candidates.
Because of the disqualifications, turnout was expected to be lighter than usual despite pleas by Iranian leaders for citizens to head to the polls.
Official figures were not immediately released, but the semiofficial Fars news agency said turnout was estimated at 40 percent nationwide and 30 percent in Tehran.
State TV reported very high turnout early in the day in Tehran and other provinces, but the German dpa news agency quoted witnesses in the capital as saying most polling stations were empty.
Iranian authorities had predicted a turnout of about 50 percent, compared with 62 percent in the 2016 vote.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei cast his ballot at a mosque near his Tehran office shortly after polls opened.
“Anyone who cares about Iran's national interests should participate in the election," he said in televised remarks.
Conservative clerics in the Guardians Council cleared a total of 7,148 candidacies for the 290-seat chamber.
Ninety members of Iran's outgoing parliament were among those who were rejected. Many were moderates or reformist lawmakers who support engagement with the West.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized the election as a "sham" and a vote that "is not free or fair."
Washington on February 20 imposed sanctions on five members of Iran's Guardians Council and its Elections Supervision Committee, accusing them of rigging the vote.
President Hassan Rohani, who initially criticized the disqualification of so many moderate would-be candidates, said Iranians could stage what he called another "victory" by voting in large numbers.
"Our enemies will be disappointed more than before," Rohani said, after casting his ballot.
Officials initially extended voting for two hours due to what state television described as a "rush of voters" during the final hours of scheduled voting. Balloting was then prolonged again for a further two hours and then a third time for one additional hour.
The elections were seen as a test of the popularity of Iran's conservative clerical establishment.
Voting comes amid public anger over official corruption, Iran's worsening economy, and Tehran's handling of the downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet by Iranian air defenses that killed all 176 people on board.
A U.S. campaign of "maximum pressure" against Iran, including crippling economic sanctions, has hurt the country's economy and contributed to a crash of the national currency, the rial.
Angry Iranians have taken to the streets to protest in recent months.
The demonstrations have included antiestablishment protests in November, sparked by a sudden gasoline price hike in more than 100 cities and towns, which met with a violent crackdown by security forces.
Inside and outside the country, some Iranians have suggested that voting in such an uncompetitive elections does not make sense.
Paris-based political activist Ali Keshtgar told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that only candidates loyal to Khamenei have been allowed to run.
"Critics of the establishment have no chance of entering the elections," Keshtgar said.
Observers had said turnout could be affected by announcements from Iranian health officials of several infections and deaths related to the deadly coronavirus in Iran.