TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranians voted Friday in the country's parliamentary runoff elections, a key poll that will decide how much power allies of moderate President Hassan Rouhani will have in the next legislature after the landmark nuclear deal with world powers.
Though Rouhani continues to have popular support after the deal, its promised economic effects have yet to trickle down to the Islamic Republic's 80 million people, something hard-liners have belabored in the time since.
That political tension, once only reflected in newspaper columns and angry speeches, boiled over into rare political violence Friday that saw four people wounded in a shooting in a rural region of the country's Fars province.
The vote was for the remaining 68 positions in the 290-seat chamber that were not decided in February's general election, in which Rouhani's allies won an initial majority.
Though the parliamentary vote isn't expected to herald large-scale change in Iranian policies, it may strengthen Rouhani's hand and make it easier for him to deliver in areas such as promoting social freedoms and reforming the economy.
In February, a bloc of reformists and moderate allies of Rouhani won an initial majority — 106 seats — in a vote that saw a 62-percent turnout. The bloc needs to win 40 seats Friday to ensure its control over the parliament, which begins work in late May.
But hard-liners, who have in the past controlled the chamber and who only won 64 seats in February, are also hoping to boost their presence in the next parliament.
The political affiliation of the other 52 winners in February's election, among them five members of Iran's religious minorities, remains unclear. That makes the runoff important to cement the control of reformists and moderate conservatives.
Polls opened at 8 a.m. Friday and nearly 17 million Iranians were eligible to vote in 55 constituencies, including cities and towns across the nation. In Tehran, Iran's capital and major political powerhouse, moderates won all 30 seats there outright in the first round of voting.
The moderate-reformist bloc is fielding 58 candidates in the runoff. The rest of the candidates — 78 — include hard-liners and several independents. Lawmakers serve four-year terms. Under the law, two candidates compete for every seat in the runoff and the one who wins a simple majority of votes wins the seat.
Poll initially were to close at 6 p.m., though election officials extended voting until 9 p.m. or later in some areas. Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli earlier told reporters that election results are expected on Saturday.
Iran does not allow international election observers to monitor its polls, which the Interior Ministry conducts.
Mohammad Hossein Moghimi, the head of Iran's election headquarters, told reporters that participation in the vote was "very remarkable," according to the state-run IRNA news agency. He added that authorities sent helicopters to collect ballots from villages in remote mountains. He offered no immediate turnout figures.
The voting largely took place in more rural areas where conservatives hold sway, as well as larger cities like Ahvaz, Shiraz and Tabriz. State television aired video of orderly lines of voters casting ballots in schools and mosques, including women wearing the traditional black chador.
However that peacefulness was broken in the city of Mamasani in Fars province. There, an argument between supporters of different political candidates escalated into a violent confrontation, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency.
ISNA quoted Hossein Zolfaghari, Iran's deputy interior minister for security, as saying police had already identified those responsible and were searching for them. He did not say where the shooting happened or name the candidates involved.
"Everything is calm in Mamasani now," he said.
There were two candidates opposing each other in the area: reformist Masoud Goudarzi and Abdolreza Moradi, an independent believed to be more conservative than his opponent. Neither could be immediately reached for comment.
Mamasani is a rural area in Iran where gunfire is common at weddings and other celebrations. Politically motivated shootings, however, remain rare, as across the rest of the country.
Also in February, voters picked members for an 88-seat body of clerics officially charged with selecting the replacement for the supreme leader from high-ranking clerics, including its members. The Assembly of Experts is elected every eight years and there is a chance its members may need to find a successor for the ayatollah, who is 76 years old and underwent prostate surgery in 2014, renewing speculation about his health.
In the time since, Khamenei has appeared in good health in weekly meetings and reportedly was seen hiking near the capital.
Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellap. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/jon-gambrell
Associated Press writer Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.