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Campaigning Begins for Iran's Parliamentary Elections

Iranian women wave flags of reformists for the parliamentary elections in a campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Feb. 18, 2016.

Iranians got their first taste Thursday of the campaign for next week's parliamentary elections, pitting reformists and moderates against conservatives in polls that could shape the country's future over the next decade.

Supporters of a coalition of reformists and backers of President Hassan Rouhani held their first joint rally in Tehran as thousands of candidates launched their campaigns.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in a public hall in central Tehran, chanting "reforms will be the winner of the elections."

During the gathering, Elahe Koulaei, one of the female candidates, called the election a "second step" after the 2013 victory of Rouhani, a moderate within Iran's political system.

Voting will be split between two ballots — one to elect members of parliament and another to pick the Assembly of Experts, a powerful committee of 88 clerics who supervise the work of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's ultimate authority.

But the run-up to the Feb. 26 vote has been dominated by controversy over who will be allowed to contest the elections, rather than an actual debate of the policies that candidates support.

All those seeking public office in Iran are vetted for their loyalty to the Islamic republic. Almost half the applicants seeking to become lawmakers were excluded. In the initial round of vetting, reformists suffered the heaviest blow, with thousands of candidates being rejected.