Iran takes initial steps toward March elections
Tehran -- Iran began registering potential candidates Saturday for March parliamentary elections, a vote that will be especially hard-fought between supporters and opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad within the conservative camp.
The country's major reformist groups are staying out of the race, saying that basic requirements for free and fair elections have not been met.
In their absence, the poll for the 290-seat assembly is likely to pit hard-line candidates who remain staunchly loyal to the country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei against conservatives who support Ahmadinejad.
Whatever the outcome, the vote is unlikely to change Iran's course. The country is a theocracy, and Khamenei has final say on all state matters.
The March 2 elections will be the first nationwide balloting since Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election in 2009, which the opposition said was heavily rigged. That vote set off months of near-daily protests in which hundreds of thousands took to the streets in support of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who they said was the rightful winner.
The wave of protests was the biggest challenge to Iran's clerical leadership since it came to power in the 1979 Islamic Revolution. But a heavy crackdown suppressed the protests, and many in the opposition were arrested. The opposition has not been able to hold a major protest since December 2009.