For the Iranian establishment, the turnout in the March 2 parliamentary elections is key.
Iran needs a high turnout to claim public support and domestic stability at a time when it faces unprecedented diplomatic pressure and discontent at home. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said before the vote that the elections were the most critical in years.
There are already signs suggesting that the official turnout is likely to be higher than the participation of past years, which has been on average around 60 percent. But in the absence of independent observers, any turnout figures released by the government will be impossible to confirm.
As Iranians were casting their ballots, the hard-line Fars news agency -- which is said to be affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) -- estimated that the turnout was 12 percent higher than in the 2008 parliamentary elections.
Fars said it expected a record turnout of more than 71 percent
. That would be the highest turnout of any parliamentary elections in the Islamic republic.
Several Iranian officials, including Tehran's provincial governor, Morteza Tamadon, also said they were expecting a "record turnout."
[Radio Farda quoted Interior Minister Mohammed Najar
as saying turnout was 64 percent, although he added that figure was "inconclusive and may be slightly more or less."]
Getting Out The Vote
The Iranian establishment has been using every opportunity and tool, including several programs on state television, to encourage people to vote.
The opposition, on the other hand, has called on people to stay home and boycott the vote, which it has called a farce. "Why should we vote? The last time we voted we were run over by a car," wrote one member of the opposition Green Movement on Facebook, referring to the 2009 postelection crackdown.
A government supporter wrote on Google+ that he cast his ballot in the name of the Iranian nuclear scientists who have been assassinated in recent months in what appears to be a covert war aimed at slowing Iran's nuclear program.
A surprise moment came when state news agencies reported that former President Mohammad Khatami had cast his ballot. News websites including Fars had posted an old picture of Khatami
, leading to speculation that the story was fabricated.
But one of Khatami's close aides confirmed in an interview with the Persian service of the BBC that he had voted. The opposition Sahamnews
website also confirmed that Khatami had cast his ballot.
Several months before the vote, Khatami set conditions for the reformist camp to take part in the elections -- including the release of political prisoners and free elections. He said that if those conditions were not met, participation would be meaningless.
Those conditions have clearly not been met and his participation in the elections has led to anger and frustration among some in the opposition who expressed themselves on social media.
"Look in whom we have put our hopes," wrote one man on Facebook.
Others posted pictures of Sohrab Arabi, a young Iranian killed in the crackdown that followed the disputed 2009 reelection of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. The posters asked: "Do you remember his innocent face? He was only 20 years old."
-- Golnaz Esfandiari