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DATE=2/18/2000 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=IRANIAN ELECTIONS (L-UPDATE) NUMBER=2-259320 BYLINE=SCOTT BOBB DATELINE=TEHRAN CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Huge numbers of Iranians have taken part in elections for a new national parliament. Voting was extended for two hours, and many polling stations were still crowded after nightfall. The Interior Ministry says the balloting was orderly. V-O-A correspondent Scott Bobb has been visiting polling stations in Tehran and has this report. TEXT: Many Iranians heeded the call of their leaders and went to the polls early on Friday. Queues formed in the morning outside the country's 36-thousand polling centers and election officials reported a high turnout. Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was one of the first in the country to vote. He cast his ballot near his home in central Tehran. /// KHAMENEI ACT IN FARSI, FADE UNDER /// Ayatollah Khamenei told state television the election is a test, a divine duty and an opportunity to exercise a personal right. He urged voters to enhance the system and choose candidates who are most useful to the country. President Mohammed Khatami also cast his vote early. /// KHATAMI ACT IN FARSI, FADE UNDER /// The Iranian president called the election a historic day. He said voting is a national right and a religious duty. And added that the larger the turnout, the more parliament will be representative. Iranian experts say a majority of the 38-million eligible voters were expected to cast ballots in what is seen as a referendum on the president's reformist program of greater social and political freedoms. At a polling station in the large Atisaz housing project near the center of Tehran, men and women queued separately to cast their ballots at the local religious community center [Husseiniye]. Mohammed Bagharabouzeh expressed satisfaction over the vote, saying it was the freest election to date. /// BAGHARABOUZEH ACT /// So far so good. Still it is not ideal for Iranian people, but it's much better than before. We hope it gets much better in the future. /// END ACT /// Outside, a young woman named Jamila Kourbani accompanying her parents from the polling center said the turnout would be high. /// JAMILA ACT IN FARSI, WITH ENGLISH TRANSLATION /// I think the participation is going quite Well, because people want to have an impact on their destiny and have people who they want find their way into the parliament. /// END ACT /// Iranians are to choose 290 members of parliament from a slate of more than five-thousand candidates. /// REST OPT /// A professor of political science at Tehran University, Nasser Hadiani, told V-O-A Friday he expects the reformists to win at least 40 percent and conservatives to win 20 to 30 percent of the seats in parliament. He predicts centrists will win 25 to 30 percent of the seats, and says having a strong bloc of moderates in the parliament is not a bad idea. /// HADIANI ACT /// If they (the centrists) are not there, the Iranian political scene will be very much polarized. We have a majority of the reformists on the one hand, which do not control coercive resources, like police, army, Revolutionary Guard, judiciary, whatever. And we have a minority of conservatives, which are very powerful and controlling all these coercive (resources) and a lot of economic resources. /// END ACT /// Professor Hadiani says with a strong center, the parliament is less likely to become polarized, and the conservatives will be more inclined, he says, to play by democratic rules. Reformist candidates say their first priority is to change laws restricting freedom of the press and speech. They also want to change the system whereby panels of conservatives can veto laws and candidates. Many conservatives have acknowledged some change is needed, but they are expected to oppose changes that they feel undermine the principles of the Iranian revolution. (Signed) NEB/SB/GE/KL/WTW 18-Feb-2000 15:02 PM EDT (18-Feb-2000 2002 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .