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Khamenei Reigns Supreme In Parliamentary Polls

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei casts his ballot in Tehran in the parliamentary elections on March 2.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei casts his ballot in Tehran in the parliamentary elections on March 2.
In a test of where loyalties within Iran's conservative establishment lie, it appears tradition has won the day.

Early returns from the country's March 2 parliamentary polls show candidates closest to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei taking a majority of the 290 seats in the legislature. That could mean the further consolidation of power for the supreme leader at the expense of populist President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who has been locked in a power struggle against Khamenei.

Votes from the March 2 polls are still being tallied, but the winners of 190 seats have been declared. Among them were a handful of women and a number of independents but no reformists, owing to a boycott led by the opposition Green Movement.

Races in Tehran and a dozen other districts will go to a second round because no candidate succeeded in securing the minimum number of votes.

Interior Minister Mohammad Najar has said that 60 candidates will compete for 30 seats in the runoff, the date of which has not been announced.

Iran has no political parties, but the United Principlist Front, a grouping that brought together traditional and more hard-line conservatives loyal to Khamenei, took the most seats, according to early returns.

The Stability Front, which includes ultra-hardliners led by Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, was next. The grouping includes former Ahmadinejad supporters who turned against him as he waged a losing battle to increase the role of the presidency.

Analysts say the vote appears to be a setback for the president, whose supporters among the parliamentary candidates kept a low profile during the campaign.

In what is seen as a major embarrassment, the president's sister Parvin, who was running for the first time, failed to win a seat in their hometown of Garmsar. Parvin Ahmadinejad has said that she will protest against voting "irregularities."

In Paris, national religious activist Morteza Kazemian told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that independent candidates who made it into the parliament could influence the power politics of the future parliament.

"There has been a significant number of independent winners," Kazemian said. "We have to wait and see which political forces and centers of power they will turn to after the parliament starts its work."

A Tehran-based analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity told RFE/RL that the final results of the vote could determine how big a blow the president has suffered.

Officials have said that 65 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots throughout the country, despite eyewitness accounts by citizen journalists who told Radio Farda that many voting centers in Tehran and a number of other cities remained virtually empty on election day.

A number of Iranians, including opposition activists, have said they didn't vote in the March 2 elections because they believed their vote wouldn't matter.

The opposition Green Movement, which took shape after a divisive presidential election in 2009, had urged a boycott of the vote.

Amir Ardeshir Arjomand, spokesman for the opposition Coordination Council of the Green Path of Hope, alleged on March 4 that turnout figures had been determined before the vote.

"As long as the elections are not monitored by independent observers, their health cannot be confirmed," Arjomand told the opposition website "Kalame."

The election was the first since that 2009 vote, which led to mass street protests against Ahmadinejad's hotly disputed reelection.

Ahmadinejad said on March 4 that Iranian citizens demonstrated their strong will and loyalty to the Iranian revolution on election day.

He said the "high turnout" frustrated Iran's enemies.

Iranian officials had called for a mass turnout ahead of the vote, which was also seen as a test of legitimacy for the Iranian establishment.

Ahead of the vote, Human Rights Watch (HRW) predicted that "arbitrary disqualifications" of candidates by vetters from the Guardians Council and other restrictions made the elections grossly unfair.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari with contributions from Radio Farda Broadcaster Fahimeh Heydari

About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.


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