TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranians head to the polls Friday to vote on candidates for two separate institutions: the 290-seat parliament and the 88-seat Assembly of Experts, a clerical body empowered to choose or dismiss the country's supreme leader.
In parliament, supporters of moderate President Hassan Rouhani hope to dilute the influence of hard-liners who fear reforms and greater openness to the West could weaken the Islamic Republic.
The makeup of the next Assembly of Experts, meanwhile, could prove crucial given speculation about the health of 76-year old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the current supreme leader, who underwent prostate surgery in 2014.
A look at the main political factions competing for parliament:
GRAND COALITION OF PRINCIPLISTS: This is the most prominent grouping of hard-liners. It includes many top names in the conservative camp determined to weaken Rouhani and undermine the landmark nuclear deal his government reached with world powers last year.
Key leader: Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, a current lawmaker, is leading the 30-member list in Tehran. His daughter is married to Ayatollah Khamenei's son. Many of the list members are allies of former hard-line president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Hard-liners have accused reformists and moderates of seeking to sell out Iran's independence and bring about foreign domination of the country should they win.
The addition of Ahmadinejad loyalists to their list has caused a major rift within the conservative camp, with more moderate conservatives such as Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani and his supporters walking away from the bloc.
MODERATE CONSERVATIVES: This camp includes many moderate conservatives opposed to hard-liners. They hold the majority in the current parliament. However, they have refused to issue a joint list of candidates and its members are running independently.
Key leaders: Ali Larijani, the current speaker of parliament, is the most prominent member of the bloc. Alaeddin Boroujerdi, a veteran diplomat and the current head of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee of the parliament, is another leading member.
Members of the bloc could not come to terms with hard-liners and at the same time didn't want to joint reformists. While sharing some political views with hard-liners, independent conservatives are staunchly opposed to Ahmadinejad's allies.
COMPREHENSIVE COALITION OF REFORMISTS: This is the main reformist slate of candidates, made up of reformers seeking greater democratic changes in Iran's ruling Islamic establishment, and moderates supporting Rouhani.
Key leaders: Mohammad Reza Aref, a former reformist vice president, is leading the bloc. He was a presidential candidate in 2013 but withdrew in Rouhani's favor, paving the way for the election of the moderate leader. Moderate activist Ali Nobakht, a brother of vice president and government spokesman Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, is another prominent name in the list.
Most of the 3,000 reformist hopefuls were barred from running by the Guardian Council, a cleric-led constitutional watchdog that vets election candidates. The council later reversed some of those disqualifications. The reformist candidates that survived the vetting process are lesser known, though the main reformist parties are supporting them.
Of over 12,000 hopefuls who applied to run in the Feb. 26 parliamentary elections, more than 6,200 were finally approved by the Guardian Council, most of them hard-liners and conservatives.
A look at the two main blocs in the Assembly of Experts race:
CONSERVATIVES: This is the most prominent grouping of hard-line clerics, who already control the Assembly of Experts. It includes many top names in the hard-line camp who have been obstacles to greater democratic reforms in the country.
Key leaders: Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, a current member, is the most prominent cleric opposing greater democratic reforms. He is also secretary of the Guardian Council, the panel that vets election candidates. Assembly head Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi is another hard-line voice, as is extremist member Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi.
Although most candidates approved to run are hard-liners, moderates and reformists have launched an unofficial campaign to unseat the three men, urging Iranians to take this election seriously by turning out in large numbers to block their re-elections.
Hard-liners would certainly seek another hard-liner as supreme leader should Khamenei die in the next assembly's 8-year term.
MODERATES: This group seeks to lessen the influence of hard-liners. They are a minority in the current assembly. Just a few of their candidates were approved to run in provincial towns.
Key leaders: Former centrist president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and moderate President Hassan Rouhani are prominent names. Moderate Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of the founder of Iran's Islamic Republic, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was barred from running.
Rafsanjani, a current assembly member, broke a taboo on speaking about the supreme leader's successor in December when he said a committee within the assembly has begun putting together a list of possible replacements for Khamenei.
Moderates are not expected to win a majority but are hoping to defeat the most hard-line clerics. They have issued a list of 16 candidates for Tehran, but have had to include some less-extreme hard-liners on their electoral lists because of a shortage of approved candidates. Interestingly, there is one lay jurist in their list who survived the screening process.