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Hard-Liners Take Big Lead In Iranian Election


http://gdb.rferl.org/E256456D-96F9-477B-B3DF-405BCC5F3310_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/E256456D-96F9-477B-B3DF-405BCC5F3310_mw800_mh600.jpg An Iranian cleric casts his ballot at a polling station in the Shi'ite holy shrine of Massoumeh in Qom (AFP) Early returns in Iran's parliamentary elections show conservatives headed for a big win.


Partial results reported by Iran's state-controlled media show conservatives winning more than two-thirds of the 170 parliamentary mandates tabulated thus far. Reformist opponents of hard-line President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, and a smattering of independents, won less than one-third of the seats.


There are 290 seats in the Iranian parliament, the Majlis, and many results have not yet been tabulated. Interior Minister Mostafa Purmohammadi says final results may not be announced for days. Some 30 seats, where no candidate won enough votes to secure victory, will be decided by second-round runoffs.


The election, held on March 14, is seen as a crucial test for Ahmadinejad in advance of next year's presidential election, where he is expected to face challenges from moderate conservatives and -- to a lesser degree -- from reformers.


Iran's conservatives are divided between hard-line supporters of Ahmadinejad and a more moderate faction aligned with former nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, who is seen as possibly eyeing his own presidential bid. Early returns had the pro-Ahmadinejad conservatives faring slightly better than the moderates.


Speaking on March 15 in Qom, where he won a seat in parliament, Larijani said he had no ideological dispute with Ahmadinejad and that their disagreements were mainly about style. Larijani promised "cooperation between the parliament and the government."


Outside The Empowered Circle


Hasan Khanlou, a spokesman at Iran's Interior Ministry, says turnout was more than 65 percent of Iran's 44 million eligible voters -- up significantly from the 51 percent who voted in the 2004 election.


Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei and other senior officials had called for a big turnout to defy the countries they say are Iran's enemies. Reformists had also urged their supporters to vote to deny conservatives clear dominance in the next parliament.


Still, many Iranians have complained about a lack of choice after the Guardians Council -- an unelected body of clerics and jurists -- disqualified some 1,700 mostly moderate candidates on the grounds that they were insufficiently loyal to Islam or Iran's 1979 revolution.


"In this eighth parliamentary election [since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution], we have unfortunately seen the omission of most of the reformists, nationalists, and candidates who stand outside the current empowered circle," former reformist legislator Jalal Jalalizadeh told Radio Farda on March 14.


"As a result, in most of the polling areas there are no candidates other than the ones who are close to the ruling bloc. This has led to the disappointment of people and thus in many electoral areas they have not participated."


One unidentified man, voting in Tehran, told Reuters that "there wasn't a candidate on the lists that actually appealed to me...I couldn't find the right candidate."


In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack has criticized the elections, saying the results were "cooked" because the Iranian people were not able to vote for a full range of candidates.


An Iranian journalist covering the elections told Radio Farda on the condition of anonymity that there had been "numerous reports" of irregularities.


Likewise, Mehdi Karrubi, who heads the reformist National Confidence Party, told reporters that he had received reports of people inside polling stations handing voters lists of candidates to vote for.


Some have also questioned the high turnout figures reported by the authorities. According to AP, just a handful of voters showed up at many polling stations in Tehran. AP also reported that where lines did form in the capital, it was at a few major mosques, where most voters backed pro-Ahmadinejad candidates.


Challenges Ahead


Analysts say that despite the strong conservative showing, Ahmadinejad will likely have a more difficult time with the new parliament than he had with the outgoing legislature.


"Reformists -- many of whom have been banned from running -- will, in the most optimistic view, succeed in getting one-third of the seats in parliament," Mashaollah Shamsolvaezin, a Tehran-based journalist, told Radio Farda on March 14.


"This powerful minority, along with the majority of the traditional and technocratic conservatives who oppose Ahmadinejad's policies, can form a remarkable majority, in order to put an end to the Ahmadinejad's current policies in terms of lawmaking," he added. "On the other hand, they can provide a tighter control over Ahmadinejad's domestic and foreign policy, especially in the field of economy."


Likewise, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a close ally of reformist former President Mohammad Khatami said he expected Ahmadinejad to face "more challenges" with the next parliament.


Reformists and some conservatives have accused Ahmadinejad of fueling inflation, which now stands at 19 percent, with loans and subsidies. Reformists have also criticized him for his vitriolic anti-Western rhetoric, which has led to Tehran's increased international isolation.


The moderate conservatives are led by Larijani, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, and former Islamic Revolution Guards Corps chief Mohsen Rezai.


There are also two coalitions of moderate reformers: the Reformist Coalition inspired by former reformist President Mohammad Khatami and the National Confidence Party led by former parliament speaker Karrubi.


RFE/RL's Radio Farda contributed to this report

Recent Majlis Elections

In the last parliamentary elections, in 2004, conservative opponents of reformist President Mohammad Khatami captured an overwhelming majority of the seats at stake -- including in liberal-leaning Tehran. A runoff strengthened conservatives' hand, increasing their total to 190, while reformists held 50 seats, independents 45, and religious minorities five.

Disqualifications Authorities reportedly had barred some 2,500 reform-minded candidates from competing.

Perceptions Abroad The voting was seen as cementing hard-liners' grip on power while delivering a sharp rebuke to Khatami, whose moderate image had provided hope for supporters of economic liberalization. The European Union decried the voting as undemocratic before final results had even come in, warning of a fallout.

In the parliamentary elections of 2000, would-be reformers backing Khatami crush conservatives in February 2000 to take control of parliament on the back of an election turnout of over 67 percent, handing Khatami a mandate to carry out his program of social, political, and economic reforms. The showing meant that hard-liners were ousted from control of parliament for the first time since the 1979 revolution. After a runoff, reformists ended up with 170 seats, conservatives 45, and independents 10.

Disqualifications The Guardians Council had eventually disqualified nearly 700 candidates from the running.

Perceptions Abroad EU members had decided to normalize relations with Tehran after Khatami's accession to the presidency. The United States called the result a "hopeful sign for the West" and expressed cautious encouragement for the "reformists."

Recent Majlis Elections

In the last parliamentary elections, in 2004, conservative opponents of reformist President Mohammad Khatami captured an overwhelming majority of the seats at stake -- including in liberal-leaning Tehran. A runoff strengthened conservatives' hand, increasing their total to 190, while reformists held 50 seats, independents 45, and religious minorities five.

Disqualifications Authorities reportedly had barred some 2,500 reform-minded candidates from competing.

Perceptions Abroad The voting was seen as cementing hard-liners' grip on power while delivering a sharp rebuke to Khatami, whose moderate image had provided hope for supporters of economic liberalization. The European Union decried the voting as undemocratic before final results had even come in, warning of a fallout.

In the parliamentary elections of 2000, would-be reformers backing Khatami crush conservatives in February 2000 to take control of parliament on the back of an election turnout of over 67 percent, handing Khatami a mandate to carry out his program of social, political, and economic reforms. The showing meant that hard-liners were ousted from control of parliament for the first time since the 1979 revolution. After a runoff, reformists ended up with 170 seats, conservatives 45, and independents 10.

Disqualifications The Guardians Council had eventually disqualified nearly 700 candidates from the running.

Perceptions Abroad EU members had decided to normalize relations with Tehran after Khatami's accession to the presidency. The United States called the result a "hopeful sign for the West" and expressed cautious encouragement for the "reformists."

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