(Bloomberg) -- Iran will hold parliamentary elections on Friday, a vote that’s being watched at home and abroad as a test of public support for its handling of protests and role in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

The sidelining of moderate factions and absence of conventional political parties means turnout in the Islamic Republic is set to be a more important metric than the results themselves. Officials want high participation to send a message of strength, particularly amid tensions with the US and Israel over Iran’s backing of militias such as Hamas in Gaza and the Houthis in Yemen.

“The more enthusiasm with which elections are held in the country, the more it shows national strength, and national strength brings national security,” Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said earlier this month. “When the enemy front looks and sees the presence of the people, it witnesses the strength of the regime.”

Turnout hit a record low in the most recent elections, falling to 42.5% in the 2020 parliamentary vote and 48.8% in the 2021 presidential poll, both of which saw hard-line candidates win. High turnout has tended to coincide with stronger showings for reformists and moderates.

“The election outcome is preordained, with the hardliners being handed the election on a silver platter,” said Holly Dagres, a non-resident fellow of the Atlantic Council. “Khamenei wants to make sure his legacy is intact.”

Officials frequently point to electoral participation as evidence of the state’s legitimacy. 

Since the last national elections, Iran has been rocked by the biggest protests in the modern state’s history, triggered by the death in 2022 of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, in police custody. On the international front, the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, which killed 1,200 people, has drawn attention to Iran’s “axis of resistance” militia network from Iraq to the Red Sea. Hamas is designated a terrorist organization by the US and the European Union.

Besides setting laws, the parliament’s key functions include approving the government’s budget and international contracts. All new legislation has to be approved by the unelected Guardian Council, half of whose members are directly appointed by the supreme leader.

Leader Succession

Friday’s vote will also include a ballot for the Assembly of Experts, an 88-seat council of religious jurists that’s charged with selecting the supreme leader.

Khamenei is now 84 and the assembly’s term lasts eight years, meaning the incoming cadre may well handle a succession. That’s something they’ve only had to do once since the 1979 revolution, when they picked Khamenei in 1989.

Competition is particularly low in the assembly vote. Only 144 people were approved to run by the Guardian Council, meaning there’s fewer than two candidates for each seat.

“Though their role would be to rubber stamp Khamenei’s heir, making sure that the 88-member body is made up of loyalists means guaranteeing the event is accomplished in an orderly manner,” said the Atlantic Council’s Dagres.

Hassan Rouhani, the moderate former president known for agreeing to the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers including the US, currently sits on the assembly but was one of those disqualified from running again.

Former President Donald Trump later withdrew the US from the accord and reimposed sanctions, while attempts by Joe Biden’s administration to revive the deal have failed. 

Iran reduced its stockpile of near bomb-grade uranium over the past three months, but retains enough technical know-how and material to fuel several nuclear weapons within weeks, should it decide to pursue arms. 

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