Vahid Salemi, Associated Press
Iranian schoolgirls in Islamic dress walk near the shrine of Masoumeh, an Islamic saint, in the city of Qom on the day before the country's parliamentary elections.

QOM, Iran — Ali Farahani smiles as he talks about Iran's parliament elections today. The young cleric in this spiritual center of the Islamic revolution says the vote will sweep the country closer to hard-liners' ideal of the Islamic state.

In Tehran, computer technician Hadi Rezaei, a backer of democratic reforms, sees little hope — and no reason to vote.

Conservatives, particularly allies of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are expected to maintain the domination of parliament they have had since 2004. If they do so by a strong margin, it would demonstrate the Islamic leadership's ability to ward off a comeback by reformists.

Ahead of the vote, the Guardian Council — an unelected body of clerics and jurists — disqualified around 1,700 candidates, mostly reformists. Those barred from running were judged insufficiently loyal to Islam or the revolution.

As a result, reformists have said they are not running in as many as 200 of the 290 races around the country. Many of the reform candidates who were allowed to compete are little-known.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, threw his support behind hard-liners. In a speech Wednesday, he called on voters to back candidates who are opposed to the U.S. and "whose loyalties are to Islam and justice."

In Qom, Farahani said Ahmadinejad's government "is moving ahead. Some may criticize that it hasn't reached the goal, but it is in motion, and that is good. The motion should not be stopped."

"Conservatives are right, society is in a process of change," said the 24-year-old, who teaches at one of Qom's many Islamic seminaries. The 1979 Islamic revolution's principles "are Islam's principles — justice, protection of human dignity," he said.

Qom, 80 miles south of Tehran, is the heartland of Iran's clerical establishment, where most top ayatollahs are based. The clerics that emerge from its seminaries fill some senior government positions and the unelected bodies that oversee the government, such as the Guardian Council.

The disqualifications of candidates have divided reform supporters. Some have decided to boycott the vote.

"We can't bring deep democratic changes within the ruling establishment through the ballot box," the 29-year-old Rezaei said. "Once, I used to vote for reformers but it didn't work. The Guardian Council has already decided the elections."

But reform leaders are pressing their backers to go to the polls, hoping that with a large turnout they can at least build a strong minority in parliament.

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