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Khamenei loyalists may tighten grip at Iran elections

Iranians will head to the polls on Friday, (February 21) voting in a parliamentary election that's widely expected to reinforce the supreme leader's grip on power.

Over 50% of the candidates that were attempting to run have actually been banned from the ballot by a hardline government body called the Guardian Council, tasked with vetting politicians and laws.

It means that reformists, moderates, and even some conservatives have been barred including about a third of sitting lawmakers.

So voters are left to choose between hardliners and low-key conservatives loyal to Ayatollah Khamenei.

Like hardliners, conservatives do back the ruling theocracy, but support more engagement with the outside world.

Big gains by war hawks would also confirm the political demise of the country's pragmatist politicians, whose standing was weakened by the United States' withdraw from the 2015 nuclear agreement and rapid deterioration between the two countries afterwards.

Faced with little choice, voters are widely expected to focus on bread and butter issues -- especially as the economy continues to feel the damaging effects of Washington's sanctions.

The turnout is seen as a referendum on the establishment after crises at home and abroad, a potential risk for authorities.