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Clerical and political conservatives vie for upper hand in Iran election

Behrouz Mehri / AFP - Getty Images

A man shouts slogans as he distributes electoral leaflets of the United Conservatives' Front candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections outside the Tehran University compound on Feb. 24, 2012.

A man holds electoral leaflets for candidate Zohreh Elahiyan outside Tehran University on Feb. 24, 2012.

Campaigning has begun for Iran's March 2 parliamentary election, the first nationwide vote since the disputed 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that sparked eight months of unrest and a crushing state response. 

3,444 candidates are standing for election to the 290-seat parliament. Officials and state media have called for a big turnout to counter "enemies' threats" against the regime. 

Morteza Nikoubazl / Reuters

A woman holds election leaflets in central Tehran on Feb. 24, 2012.

With a no-show by leading pro-reform groups, loyalists of Iran's most powerful figure, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and backers of Ahmadinejad, who is not a cleric, will compete for a majority.

Khamenei's supporters, sharply critical of Ahmadinejad's economic policies, look set to win the vote as international sanctions imposed over Tehran's disputed nuclear programme make life harder for ordinary Iranians.

"Iran has become a one-party system: the party of Khamenei," said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran analyst at the Carnegie Endowment. "The most important qualification for aspiring members of parliament is obsequiousness to the Supreme Leader."

-- Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report

Read more in Reuters' report: Iran's Ahmadinejad, reviled abroad, fades at home

EDITORS' NOTE: Foreign media are subject to Iranian restrictions on leaving the office to report, film or take pictures in Tehran.

Vahid Salemi / AP

An artist paints a portrait of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, looking out from above a major street in Tehran on Feb. 24, 2012.

Behrouz Mehri / AFP - Getty Images

Worshipers look at electoral leaflets after Friday prayers outside Tehran university on Feb. 24, 2012.