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Political News

Iran elections expected to end with hardline victory for nationalists and religious conservatives

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The elections in Iran, one of the most significant in its recent history, are expected to end in a major victory for hardliners – a result which will change the direction of the country and have major repercussions beyond its borders.

Preliminary results of Friday’s parliamentary polls, which had been shunned by a sizeable number of the electorate, indicate a severe defeat by the ruling reformists to nationalists and religious conservatives who are opposed to social liberalisation and intrinsically hostile to the west.

Some of the victorious candidates are affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), accused by the US and its allies of conducting proxy wars in the Middle East and other areas. They and other hardliners were in the lead across the country, according to figures confirmed by the Interior Ministry monitoring the count.


An unofficial tally by Reuters based on early returns holds that the hardliners – or principalists as they call themselves – had won 178 of the 290 seats, while the liberals’ share may have collapsed to 17 with independents comprising another 43 in the chamber.

The increase in the political reach of the IRGC, already one of the most powerful institutions of the Iranian state, raises the prospect of tensions both nationally and internationally.

Donald Trump has deemed the organisation a terrorist group and ordered the assassination of its commander Qassem Soleimani – an act which brought the US and Iran to the brink of war. Inside Iran, political dissidents had attacked the power and supposed wealth of the IRGC and there had been violent clashes between the Guards and protestors.

General Soleimani, however, was widely popular and there was a massive outpouring of public grief and anger after his killing. Pictures of the commander had been put up near polling stations and carried by many voters. Some hardline candidates had used the slogan: “I am Qassem Soleimani”, drawing protest from reformists pointing out that he himself had stayed neutral in domestic politics.

Disillusioned liberal supporters stayed away from polling stations, with early unofficial estimates for the turnout in the capital as low as 25 per cent and around 47 per cent for the rest of the country.

This is markedly different from the parliamentary and presidential elections in 2016 and 2017, when the moderates had been swept to power in a wave of optimism after the nuclear deal and the anticipation of social changes, the economy transforming and Iran reopening to the outside world.

Press members follow the election results as vote counting for the 11th parliamentary elections continue in Tehran (Getty)

But Trump’s attempts to dismantle the deal, pulling the US out of it and then imposing punitive sanctions, had left the economy in a parlous state and reinvigorated the hardliners who had held that national security had been compromised by the agreement which the west was sure to renege on at some time.

Many people The Independent spoke to held that domestic politicians were as much at fault for the woes of the country as the US sanctions. Ali Nakhjevani, an engineer who voted for the reformists in the previous elections, said he was abstaining this time.

“The nuclear agreement could have survived without Trump. But there were many other things the politicians should have done to help and they failed to,” he said.

“The politicians have lost touch with the people, so why should the people give them their votes? The principalities are now rising again but I can’t see them doing any better – they are part of the same system.”

There were claims and counterclaims on whether the outbreak of coronavirus in the country led to the low turnout. Health authorities reported that there had been a fifth death from the disease and 10 new confirmed cases in the country.

Officials have said that fear of catching the virus may have kept people from the polling stations. But the claim was widely refuted in social media as an excuse to hide public antipathy towards politicians.

Major General Hossein Salami, who succeeded General Soleimani as IRGC commander, had urged for a large voter turnout. Speaking on the eve of the polls he said: “Every vote cast will be a slap in the face of an enemy that hopes people will not participate in the election. But the Iranian people will, as usual, frustrate the enemies and really surprise the world.”

One of the first moves by the conservatives, it is believed, is likely to be an attempt to curb the powers of the moderate president Hassan Rouhani and his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who had been key figures in signing the agreement between international powers and Iran on the country’s nuclear programme.

The first set of winning candidates for Tehran announced by Iran’s State TV were all conservatives led by Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, who is expected to be the new speaker and aggressively challenge President Rouhani.

The shift in power also opens up questions about Iran’s nuclear programme. Some of the conservative candidates have stated that the agreement – which Iran adheres to as long with the other signatories UK, Germany, France, Russia and China – should be abandoned and whatever steps necessary for national security taken.

While acknowledging that they had lost voters through a perceived failure to deliver, the liberals have complained about the decision by the Guardian Council, the powerful election supervisory body, to disqualify a disproportionately large number of their candidates.

A total of 6,850 candidates out of 14,000 have been barred from contesting the polls including a third of the current members of parliament.

President Rouhani has strongly criticised the council. But Ayatollah Khameini, the supreme leader, and the final arbiter in the country’s complex electoral system has backed the decision, saying there is no place in parliament for “those scared of speaking out against foreign enemies”.

Asked by The Independent what the criteria was for disqualification and why so many liberals had been banned from standing, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaiy, a spokesman for the council, said: “We follow the rules set by parliament and we apply them equally to everyone, we are not a political club. Some members were qualified once, but now they have been disqualified because their standards had fallen.”

But for Reyhan Farrochzad this was the crux of the matter. The student said: “Democracy begins to die when you are told which candidates you can and cannot vote for. I saw no reason to take part in an election which to me simply wasn’t fair.”



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Political News

US military truck caught on camera ramming Russian jeep off the road in Syria

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A video circulating on Twitter shows US military forces in Syria running a Russian military vehicle off the road. 

The footage appears to be from inside of a civilian vehicle. The driver is riding alongside a convoy of military vehicles primarily flying Russian flags. At the head of the line are a pair of American vehicles, an M-ATV mine-resistant vehicle, sometimes called an MRAP, and an MRAP truck.

The driver of the civilian vehicle cuts into the convoy line behind the American vehicles, presumably to allow oncoming traffic to pass in the left lane. When the driver pulls back out to continue trying to pass the convoy, the camera reveals what The Drive reports is a Russian 4×4 Tigr truck trying to pass the American vehicles on their right. 


The Tigr successfully wedges itself between the American vehicles and attempts to overtake the lead car, but the US vehicle swerves to block its advance before ramming it off the road. A civilian bystander is nearly hit by the vehicles during the altercation. 

There is no clear explanation in the video as to why the Russians were trying to get around the American vehicles, but it may have something to do with another incident that happened nearby and around the same time. 


Wednesday, a stand-off at a checkpoint near the Syrian town of Qamishli between US troops and Syrian militia forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar Al Asad left one Syrian dead following a short gun battle. Russians were also present at the stand off, but did not intervene.

The Russian have been more prominent in the region since making an agreement with Turkey to patrol the area. The move comes as the Turkish government tries to drive US-backed Kurds out of the border region. Until recently, US and Kurdish control of the region was mostly uncontested.  

Both the American and Russian forces at Qamishli are reported to have used vehicles matching those in the convoy video. 

This kind of harassment isn’t especially unusual between Russian and American forces in Syria. In one incident, a Russian fighter jet barrel rolled over an American KC-10 refueling plane. In another, an American and Russian fighter nearly collided.  

The video ends with the civilian car moving past the Russian and American military vehicles. What happens in the moments after the incident are still unknown. 



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Britain’s lack of presence at Munich security conference sparks concern among allies

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“I am very glad to be here, I hope I can make up in quality what is lacking in quantity,” said Sir Mark Sedwill at a leading international security forum in which “global Britain” has been notable for a lack of senior ministers.

Sir Mark, the national security adviser, was a last-minute addition to a miniscule UK team at the Munich Security Conference, a prestigious gathering which has been described as the “Davos for defence”.  

The glaring absence of high-ranking figures from London has not escaped notice. Nancy Pelosi, the Democrat speaker of the House of Representatives – part of the largest ever US delegation to the conference – said: “I hope it’s not an indication of their commitment to multilateralism.”


Other senior political and economic leaders who had gathered in Munich included French president Emmanuel Macron, Mike Pompeo and Mark Esper, the US secretaries of state and defence respectively, and Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister. This is as well as the foreign ministers of China and India, two counties with which the UK is keen to make post-Brexit trade deals.

British defence secretary, Ben Wallace, pulled out in the days before the event and Sir Alex Younger, the head of MI6, also cancelled his appearance at a late stage. Downing Street denied instructing the two men not to attend.

James Cleverly, a junior Foreign Office minister, was a late substitute. He did not feature on any of the panels, although he wanted to stress that he had been active, posting photographs of bilateral meetings with the Norwegians and the Kuwaitis.

Veteran diplomats spoke of their surprise and sadness at Britain’s evaporating international footprint. Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister, tweeted: “The one nation that is only completely absent from MSC2020 [Munich Security Confernce 2020] is the UK. Very strange, minsters were supposed to come, but then everyone withdrew. Has ‘Global Britain’ gone completely introvert?”

Wolfgang Ischinger, formerly of the German foreign ministry and one of the conference organisers, tweeted: “Needless to say, as a former ambassador to the Court of St James, I am saddened by the absence of senior ministers of Her Majesty’s government at @MunSecConf this year.” 

Meanwhile, the European Union’s top diplomat said that governments within the bloc need to be willing to intervene in international crises or risk paralysis in their foreign policy.

“Europe has to develop an appetite for power,” Josep Borrell told the conference, stressing that did not only mean military power. “We should be able to act … not every day making comments, expressing concern,” he said.

Despite its trading power, the fact that decisions require consensus means it is often split on foreign policy issues – with Libya and how to respond to Donald Trump’s “peace plan” for Israel and the Palestinians among the issues causing strain. The polices of the US president have been a regular source of tension. 

“When there is no unanimity (in the EU), the remaining majority have to act,” Borrell said.



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