Iranians should not allow US President Donald Trump's "maximum pressure" approach to harm national unity ahead of parliamentary elections, President Hassan Rouhani said in a speech broadcast live on his official website.
Iran's clerical rulers face challenges in keeping the economy afloat under increasingly tough US sanctions imposed by Washington after it withdrew in 2018 from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers. Vital oil exports have been slashed.
"We should not let Trump succeed in creating gaps between the establishment and people ... We should remain united ... Don't turn your back on (February 21) elections. Let's have a high turn out," Rouhani said.
Iran's hardline Guardians Council, which vets all election candidates, has disqualified about 9,000 of the 14,000 who registered to run in the elections. Moderates say in most cities they have no candidates to enter the race.
Since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, its rulers have swept aside challenges to their grip on power. But the gap between them and the people has widened since last year, when hundreds were killed in anti-government protests.
Tehran also risks a legitimacy crisis amid mounting public fury and international criticism over the belated admission of blame by Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards for shooting down a Ukrainian passenger plane by mistake.
Angry Iranians took to streets to protest against the delayed admission by the Guards.
The distrust between the rulers and the ruled, combined with economic hardship, bodes ill for the parliamentary vote in February, when Iran's rulers typically seek a high turnout to show their legitimacy, even if the outcome will not change any major policy.
"I am calling on our nation to vote," Rouhani said. "Even if you have criticism over issues and problems, please cast your vote."