(Bloomberg) - Iranians voted Friday in an election that’s expected to hand control of parliament to hard-line conservatives empowered by the country’s turbulent and economically damaging standoff with the U.S.Voting ended at midnight and the counting of ballots started almost immediately, according to state television.While official turnout hasn’t been announced it’s expected to be lower than in previous years because of the hundreds of moderates and reformists who were barred from running, as well as reports this week of a rapid surge in coronavirus cases in the country.The semi-official Iranian Students’ News Agency reported that by 3 p.m. local time, some 11 million people had voted nationwide, equivalent to 19% of roughly 58 million eligible voters.Earlier on Friday, state television provided round-the-clock coverage from a select number of large, busy polling stations. Several others visited by Bloomberg News in both affluent and working-class neighborhoods of the capital were largely empty.Given the vacuum among moderate candidates, conservative factions loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and generally opposed to engaging with the West are widely expected to prevail.Soleimani’s KillingRecent military exchanges, in particular the killing of General Qassem Soleimani by the U.S., and highly-charged rhetoric that’s punctuated the confrontation with Washington, have also energized Khamenei’s base.Still, for Mohammad, a 29-year-old voting in Tehran, a shift in the balance of power won’t make much difference. “They’re all cut from the same cloth,” he said of the country’s politicians, withholding his last name due to the sensitivities of talking to the foreign media in Iran. “I don’t really think there’s much to set them apart.”If arch-conservatives emerge victorious they’ll control most branches of the state for the first time since the end of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency in 2013.Incumbent Hassan Rouhani, who delivered on his promise to end Iran’s long-running nuclear standoff with global powers but was unable to build a new era of prosperity when faced with President Donald Trump’s economic offensive, will be largely sidelined.Black ListIn a timely reminder of how hardliners can influence economic policy, the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force announced on Friday that Iran’s banking system will be returned to its so-called black list of countries after failing to ratify legislation required to bring the sector in line with its counter-terrorism financing and anti-money-laundering standards.Hardliners, currently a minority in Iran’s parliament, have for several years fiercely opposed and effectively stalled the pro-FATF legislation that Rouhani promoted and struggled to ratify, and which would have effectively seen Iran adopt the United Nations’ Palermo Convention against organized crime.Some 7,200 candidates vied for 290 seats on Friday. About 75 current lawmakers were barred from running again by the powerful Guardian Council, tipping the field heavily in favor of conservatives wedded to the theocratic ideals of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution.Friday’s election also had significant potential consequences for the Iranian economy and the wider Middle East region - including any hopes Iran will renegotiate its landmark 2015 nuclear settlement, hollowed out by the Trump administration’s withdrawal in 2018.Looking Ahead“The crux of this vote is whether it will indicate the outcome for the next presidential elections, which will be more significant,” said Ellie Geranmayeh, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.“If the Rouhani opposition does take over parliament, they will see this as ammunition that galvanizes them, and they won’t want him to have any foreign policy success in his last year,” she said.Some prominent conservative politicians are using the election to stage a comeback and a potential springboard to compete in the 2021 presidential poll, when Rouhani will be ineligible to stand for a third term.They include the former mayor of Tehran, Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf, who’s also a former general with the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Firebrand cleric Hamid Rasaei, who campaigned against the nuclear deal as it was being negotiated, is also hoping to re-enter parliament.Threats to MinistersAmid concerns of a low turnout, the commander of Iran’s IRGC on Thursday urged citizens to vote in a show of show defiance to the U.S. “Every vote by the people is a slap in the face of an enemy,” the semi-official Tasnim news reported the commander as saying.If the new chamber does decisively swing in favor of conservatives, Rouhani may struggle to ratify any key legislation during his final year in office, including efforts to bring Iran’s banks within international anti-terrorism financing standards. Ongoing attempts to impeach some key ministers, including Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, are also likely to escalate.Rouhani’s credibility was already battered by the failure of the nuclear deal to deliver the economic relief he’d promised after a decade of international sanctions.From the get-go, foreign businesses were afraid to sign deals, fearful of running afoul of remaining U.S. sanctions. Any lingering hopes evaporated after the U.S. quit the accord and began imposing fresh sanctions, which have since clobbered the economy. The International Monetary Fund estimates Iran’s economy shrank by 9.5% last year.Conservatives want Iran to abandon Rouhani’s push to open up to Western investment and trade, and focus instead on increasing self-reliance. While oil exports, down 80%, show no sign of recovering, construction, steel production and exports for cash to immediate neighbors are doing well.A crisis budget released in December boosts handouts for the poor and defense spending, though it’s based on ambitious growth and oil export assumptions.(Updates with polls closing, ballot counting, and FATF decision.)To contact the reporters on this story: Golnar Motevalli in London at firstname.lastname@example.org;Arsalan Shahla in Tehran at email@example.comTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Benjamin Harvey at firstname.lastname@example.org, Ros Krasny, Linus ChuaFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
Former Vice President Joe Biden has a pretty good tale to share — but it may be a little tall.Biden, who is running for president, has been spicing up his recent campaign stump speeches with a story of how he was arrested while in South Africa trying to see Nelson Mandela, The New York Times reports. But that recollection of events has only recently come to light, and it was reportedly omitted from Biden's 2007 memoir that detailed his escapades in the country around that time.During recent campaign speeches, Biden says he "had the great honor" of meeting Mandela and "of being arrested with our U.N. ambassador on the streets of Soweto." As Miami Herald reporter Alex Daugherty points out, Soweto is a ways away from Robben Island, where Mandela's maximum security prison was located.> Adding to @katieglueck's story is Biden's quote doesn't make geographical sense. "I had the great honor of being arrested with our U.N. ambassador on the streets of Soweto trying to get to see him on Robbens Island." Soweto is almost 900 miles away from Robben Island https://t.co/WtlZMdkexq> > — Alex Daugherty (@alextdaugherty) February 21, 2020The arrest, which has seemingly only been brought up publicly by Biden in the last few weeks, was not found referenced anywhere by readily available news outlets, per the Times.The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. from 1977 to 1979 was Andrew Young. While Young reportedly acknowledged going to South Africa with Biden, he said he was never arrested in the country, and he told the Times he didn't think Biden had been arrested there either."I don't think there was ever a situation where congressmen were arrested in South Africa," Young told the Times, although he did say some people were being arrested in Washington.The story, which was seemingly nonexistent before a few weeks ago, has been told three times on the trail as Biden heads into Nevada and South Carolina, where he needs to pull in big numbers in order to counteract a lackluster showing in Iowa and New Hampshire.Word of advice: there are other ways to make yourself look tough to voters that don't include broadcasting a trip to the slammer.More stories from theweek.com Bernie Sanders' subtle warning to the Democratic Party How much will Medicare-for-all save Americans? A lot. Former CIA Director John Brennan says 'we are now in a full-blown national security crisis'
Archaeologists said on Friday they had discovered an ancient cenotaph that almost certainly commemorated the legendary founder of Rome, Romulus, buried in the heart of the Italian capital. The small chamber containing a simple sarcophagus and round stone block was originally found at the start of the last century beneath the Capitoline Hill inside the old Roman forum. Alfonsina Russo, the head of the Colosseum Archaeological Park, said the site probably dated back to the sixth century BC, and was located in the most ancient part of the city which was directly linked in historical texts to Rome's first king.