Tehran: Campaigning began in Iran on Thursday for parliamentary elections to take place on March 2, with officials and state media calling for a big turnout to counter "enemies' threats" against the regime.

It will be the Islamic republic's first national poll since the controversial 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
A total of 3,444 vetted candidates are vying for the 290 seats in the parliament, known as the Majlis, to be decided by an electorate of 48 million voters.

Conservatives, who dominate the outgoing legislature, are expected to secure most of the seats despite being scattered across several lists because of the lack of any broad alliance uniting the various factions.

The main reformist blocs have been banned or have decided to boycott the elections to protest against the severe crackdown against their supporters since Ahmadinejad's re-election that has led to their principal leaders being placed under house arrest.

Authorities, concerned about the risk of many voters staying away from the polls because of the predominantly conservative field of candidates, have multiplied calls for a large turnout to show they enjoy public support.

"By participating in the legislative elections, the Iranian people who turned out in their millions (during February 11 commemorations of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution) will land another hard blow on the enemy," the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said yesterday.

Iran calls its arch-foes the United States and Israel, and sometimes all Western countries, its "enemies".

One of the main parties in the elections is the United Conservatives' Front, close to outgoing parliament speaker Ali Larijani and Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, both opposed
to Ahmadinejad and calling for more "rationalism" in politics.

The group, which dominates the current parliament, has to contend with the rival conservative Front of the Islamic Revolution's Endurance, which portrays itself as the defender of the directions decided by the supreme leader.

It criticises the "weak" policies of Larijani and Qalibaf towards the opposition and backs Ahmadinejad while denouncing the president's chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim
Mashaie,who is hated by conservatives because of his vision of an Islam that is both open and nationalist.