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Reformists Make Gains In Iranian Elections


Iranian President Hassan Rohani casts his votes in Tehran.

Final results from Iran’s February 26 elections show that Iranian President Hassan Rohani and his reformist allies won 15 out of Tehran’s 16 seats in the Assembly of Experts, a powerful 88-member assembly tasked with choosing Iran’s next supreme leader.

Two prominent hard-line clerics, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi and Ayatollah Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, lost their seats on the assembly.

Reformists also won all 30 of Tehran’s contested seats in the country’s 290-seat parliament.

Millions cast their ballots on February 26 to elect the 290-seat parliament as well as members of the 88-strong assembly, which consists of mostly elder and senior clerics.

Elsewhere in the country, the parliamentary results appeared to be split between moderates, hard-liners, and independent candidates.

Reports suggested as many as 50 seats had no clear winner and could require a second round runoff vote in April or May.

Rohani's ally, former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, is leading the race for the Assembly of Experts in the Iranian capital. Rohani is currently in the third position. Tehran will send 16 candidates to the assembly.

The hard-line cleric Ahmad Jannati, who chairs the powerful Guardians Council, was in 15th position.

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The vote was the first in Iran since the lifting of international sanctions under a landmark nuclear deal reached by Tehran and world powers last year.

Reformists had urged voters to cast ballots for a coalition of pro-reform and relatively moderate candidates -- the so-called List Of Hope -- to prevent the reelection of hard-liners and ultra-conservative clerics.

The moderates' gains come despite the disqualification of thousands of candidates, including prominent reformist figures, by hard-liners on the Guardians Council.

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Reformist and moderate newspapers welcomed the reformist win in Tehran.

"Decisive Win For The List of Hope In Tehran," the Shargh daily wrote on its front page, which carried a picture of Rohani and Rafsanjani.

Prominent Iranian economist Saeed Laylaz, who served as an adviser to former reformist President Mohammad Khatami, told the BBC that the gains by the moderates were beyond their expectations.

“In Tehran, it is marvelous," Laylaz said.

He added: “In the whole country, it is beyond our initial expectation because we didn’t suppose that we will be in a majority together with independent candidates."

Ali Alizadeh, a London-based Iranian analyst, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that Rohani's political position is likely to be strengthened as the result of the vote.

However, he added that the hard-liners have not been defeated.

"These elections are likely to give, to some extent, more power to Rohani and tie the hands of the hard-liners," Alizadeh said in a telephone interview. "But the forces known as hard-liners have not been eliminated from the parliament."

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised the "wise and determined" Iranian nation for its high participation in the twin votes.

Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani

In a statement released on February 28, Khamenei said those elected to the parliament and the Assembly of Experts, and other Iranian officials, should prioritize Iran’s national interests over "their personal and factional demands."

He also said that they should stand "bravely" against "foreign meddling."

“I hope the next parliament will act responsibly toward people and God," Khamenei said in the statement posted on his website.

The head of Iran's judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani, praised people’s "responsible" participation in the vote while accusing reformists of working with Westerners to prevent hard-liners from being reelected to the Assembly of Experts.

In a statement issued on February 27, Larijani claimed reformists had coordinated with "American and English media outlets" to prevent what he called some senior servants of the people from entering the assembly.

"Is this type of coordination with foreigners in order to push out these figures from the Assembly of Experts in the interests of the establishment?" he said in a statement.

The powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) also praised the "high turnout" in the elections, claiming that it demonstrated the commitment of Iranians to "revolutionary and Islamic values."

"There is no doubt that the election winners will do their best to protect Iran's dignity, power, and independence; resolve the main issues for society and the people; and defeat the [United States] by their awareness and wisdom," the IRGC said in a statement published by the hard-line Fars news agency.

Iran's Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said on February 27 that over 60 percent of eligible voters, about 35 million Iranians, had cast their ballots in the elections.

With reporting by Radio Farda, Reuters, BBC, AP,IRNA, Fars, ISNA, and Shargh
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