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Iran: Elections Test President's Popularity --> Iranians voting in Tehran on December 15 (MNA) December 16, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Iranians have cast ballots for local councils and a powerful clerical body in polls that look set to give the first indication of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's popularity since his election victory in June 2005.

Iran's media today hailed the elections as a success, saying high turnout would help the Islamic republic confront its Western foes.

The Iranian news agency IRNA quoted officials citing turnout of around 60 percent of the 46.5 million eligible voters. The ultraconservative "Kayhan" daily declared that Iran's enemies "were stupefied by the epic presence."

Some 233,000 candidates stood for more than 113,000 council seats in cities, towns and villages across the country.

The election results are unlikely to have any direct impact on policy.

Test Of Strength

But the vote for city and rural councils and the Assembly of Experts -- in theory, Iran's most powerful institution, with the power to appoint, supervise, and even dismiss the supreme leader -- is expected to show whether hard-line President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's reformist rivals are regaining popularity.

President Ahmadinejad voting on December 15 (Fars)

Ahmadinejad waited in line for about half an hour to vote at a mosque in east Tehran. "We hope that our enemies change their behavior and stop the hostilities relating toward Iran's nation, because the Iranian nation will move toward its goals powerfully," he said.

The two elections come at a time when Tehran faces growing international pressure over its controversial nuclear program. Authorities have said a high turnout will prove popular support for the ruling government.

Interior Minister Mostafa Pur-Mohammadi said that some results could be announced late today but others, including those for Tehran's city council, may take much longer.

Opposition Complaints

Reformists have expressed concern over possible election illegalities.

Tehran resident Reza Jafari, speaking to Reuters, called the polls a fraud. "I did not vote, because the candidates I wanted to vote for were all disqualified," he said. "Some of the candidates were chosen before the election and we had to vote for them, therefore, this election is a fixed election."

Voting in Tehran (MNA)

Among the some 160 candidates who have been approved to run in the elections, there is only one noncleric. Some 500 would-be candidates applied to be register for the assembly elections but about two-thirds of them were disqualified -- including most of the reformists, but also many fundamentalist candidates.

Turnout among Iran's 46.5 million eligible voters is seen as a major factor. Iran's reformist movement, defeated when many supporters stayed home for the 2003 council elections, have tried to mobilize their voters this time.

In 2003, just 49 percent of voters turned out for the council elections and only 12 percent in Tehran. That helped deliver victory to Ahmadinejad's supporters, who went on to sweep parliament.

Ahmadinejad, who was Tehran mayor, then won the presidency.

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