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Iran: Conservatives Headed For Election Victory

Prague, 21 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Conservatives appear headed to an expected victory in Iran's disputed parliamentary election.

Western agencies are reporting that conservatives have won around slightly over half of the seats already declared. But there's been no official confirmation yet of any of the results -- and there are conflicting reports on voter turnout.

The election is widely expected to result in conservatives retaking control of the 290-member Majlis, or parliament.That's because the hard line vetting body, the Guardians Council, had barred more than 2,400 mainly reformist candidates from running.

Mostafah Tajzadeh, a senior official in the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front, said the result was a foregone conclusion: "The reformers, those who took part and those who didn't take part in the elections, agree that the elections were not free and fair. In these elections more than half of the seats were not contested, therefore, as we said before, the make up of the parliament had already been determined."

Much of the focus is on voter turnout, after some reform groups called for a boycott. The Guardians Council said turnout among the 46 million eligible voters had been "strong," and state radio and television put it at 60 percent.

But Reuters says Interior Ministry figures suggest it was under 50 percent, which would be a record low for parliamentary elections. Pro-reformists say turnout in Tehran was as low as 30 percent.

News agencies report that apathy and disillusionment at the slow pace of President Mohammad Khatami's reforms may have also had an impact on voter numbers.

This was one Tehran woman's view: "I voted in the last elections [four years ago] and I saw that there was no benefit. The deputies who get elected are not elected in a legal way, they don't work for the people, they are those who have been elected before, and in my opinion these elections are just a formality."

Yesterday, U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli criticized the elections as "neither free nor fair." He said: "I think looking at the process leading up to the elections, there are reasons for concern. First of all, we would note that two reformist publications were closed down in the run-up to the elections. I would also note that the offices of the largest reformist party were closed. In addition, candidates have been barred from participating in the elections in an attempt to limit the choice of the Iranian people regarding their government. These actions do not represent free and fair elections and do not -- are not consistent with international norms."

Hojjat Shareefee, one of the leaders of the Office for Consolidation of Unity -- a reformist students' movement -- said: "The consequences of this election, I believe, are a serious confrontation [of ruling conservatives] with reformists, reformist deputies of current Majlis [parliament], as well as reformist groups, students movements, and possibly a harsh suppression of them in the future. And this, I believe, would be a dangerous and problematic development for the society." Final results are not expected until tomorrow at the earliest.