AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
It's election day in Iran, the first since it signed a deal to limit its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief. Now, it was a fully open election. The government disqualified many pro-reform candidates from running. But so many people turned out to vote for a new parliament that the state extended hours at polling places multiple times. NPR's Peter Kenyon visited a few polling stations. He joins us now from the Iranian capital of Tehran. And, Peter, there was some question about whether reform voters would even turn out, right, after so many of their candidates had been disqualified. What have you seen?
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, I saw that they did, in fact, turn out. I saw a three-hour line at one place in north Tehran. At Jamaran in north Tehran, it was a festive scene. People were just really happy to be there. It's not easy, you know, to find reformers in large numbers in public in Tehran, not since 2009, when they had mass street protests that were cracked down on. There were even some VIPs out and about - the brother of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who's quite conservative. But his brother, Sayed Hadi Khamenei is a very well-known reformer, and he was surrounded by people trying to take selfies with him - except for the younger crowd. They all went for the great grandson of the founder of the revolution, Ahmad Khomeini.
CORNISH: So those are the VIP-types. What did the average voter have to say about why they turned out and what they hope this can achieve?
KENYON: Well, for reformers in this political system, I mean, a big turnout is almost a matter of survival. There's so few candidates on the ballot that they actually support. After they vote for them, they have this secondary goal, which is to vote for as many centrist or center-right conservatives as they can, just to try to keep out of some of the more extreme hardliners. They're the ones who tried to block the nuclear deal last year and much of President Hassan Rouhani's agenda. And then, beyond that, it's a signal to Iran and the world that there are people here who believe Rouhani's on the right track in opening up Iran. This is kind of a U.S. midterm election, you might say. People will look at the results and gage support for Rouhani. I met a 25-year-old. He's lucky enough to be studying in Britain. His name is Arash Shirani (ph). And to him, Rouhani's idea of engaging with the outside world seems completely obvious. Here's how he put it.
ARASH SHIRANI: Yes, absolutely. It's better for my country, and it's better for the neighbor's countries, the countries that are suffering from the wars and everything - definitely. And it's really good to have foreigners coming to Tehran, invest and everything. And it's really good for our people to go outside and know the world better.
CORNISH: But, Peter, how common is that sentiment? I mean, what about other areas you visited?
KENYON: Well, exactly - more conservative when you go elsewhere. In south Tehran today, I heard plenty of hardline, anti-Western sentiment and also a lot of ordinary comments. We need jobs. We need this economy moving again. But then, when you move outside Iran's major cities, there just aren't many reformers on the ballot. That's why they turn out in such large numbers here in Tehran. They have to or there'll be a huge hardline victory. So now we're waiting to find out if they succeeded or not.
CORNISH: And when will we know the results of this election?
KENYON: There could be a few very early returns, even later tonight. but it's going to be at least a day or two before we get results.
CORNISH: That NPR's Peter Kenyon speaking to us from Tehran, where elections are under way. Peter, thanks so much.
KENYON: You're welcome, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.