Tehran, Feb 26: Iranians begin voting early Friday in crucial elections to choose members of parliament (Majlis) and the assembly of experts, which appoints the next supreme leader.
Polls opened at 8.00 a.m. (local time) and will close at 6.00 p.m. on Friday, but voting hours could be extended if the need arises amid expectations of a high turnout, Press Tv reported.
In the opening hour, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei cast his ballots in downtown Tehran.
Ayatollah Khamenei called on all Iranians to participate in the elections, saying "voting is both a right and a duty".
"Anybody who loves Iran, anybody who loves the Islamic Republic and national dignity, grandeur and glory is advised to participate in the elections," the leader said.
Ayatollah Khamenei advised voters to participate "in this great task with the intention of generating additional dignity and full independence for the country."
"Our enemies have their covetous eyes trained on Iran. People are advised to vote with discretion and foresight and disappoint the enemies," he said.
Around 55 million Iranians are eligible to vote in the elections, first since Iran clinched a landmark nuclear agreement on July 14 last year.
"Elections are always important but at certain junctures they have more importance," Ayatollah Khamenei added.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was also among the first to cast his ballots at the interior ministry in Tehran.
Addressing Iranians, Rouhani congratulated the nation on its high turnout even in the early hours of voting, saying reports show full security prevails at polling stations across the country.
The Iranian chief executive added the active "political participation" of people means "trust in the establishment," saying the government will spare no efforts to protect people's vote and ensure healthy and legitimate elections.
As many as 4,844 candidates, including about 500 women, are competing for a place in the parliament, head of the Interior Ministry's election headquarters Mohammad Hossein Moqimi said on Thursday.
In Tehran, some 1,000 candidates compete for 30 parliamentary seats. Five seats will go to the religious minorities recognised in the Iranian Constitution, namely Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians.
Among the main tasks of the legislative body are introducing legislation, dismissing the president and cabinet ministers through no-confidence votes, approving annual national budget and ratifying international treaties.
In the simultaneous vote on Friday, Iranians will also select 88 senior religious figures of the assembly of experts, which is tasked with appointing the leader and monitoring his performance.
Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani said opinion polls and estimates showed the turnout would be around 70 percent.
Rahmani Fazli added that the vote counting will begin as soon as the polls were closed.
There are 52,000 polling stations with 120,000 ballot boxes across the country, according to the Iranian minister.