Iran counts votes, conservatives tighten grip

Conservatives, committed to defending Islamic revolutionary ideals, were expected to keep the upper hand in parliament.

Iran counts votes, conservatives tighten grip

Iran counted votes on Saturday after an election set to maintain the grip of conservatives on parliament, but which looked likely to bring in more voices critical of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Many of Ahmadinejad's reformist foes, seeking political and social change and trying to capitalise on public discontent over high inflation, were blocked from standing in Friday's election.

IRANIAN JEWS VOTE FOR JEWISH MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT

İran's Jewish society also votes for the Jewish member of parliament in Iran's parliamentary elections at a synagogue in Tehran. Iranians voted on Friday in a low-key election likely to keep parliament in the grip of conservatives after unelected state bodies barred many reformist foes of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from the race.

Conservatives, committed to defending Islamic revolutionary ideals, were expected to keep the upper hand in parliament.

But their ranks include political rivals of the president, as well as committed supporters, and some analysts saw Ahmadinejad facing sharper criticism at home in the future.

"The next parliament will definitely be more critical of Ahmadinejad and they will try to expose him more," said an Iranian political analyst, who did not wish to be named.

The analyst said splits had opened up among conservatives jockeying for position before the 2009 race for the presidency.

Some conservatives have found themselves on the same side as reformists by criticising Ahmadinejad for fiery speeches that have kept Iran on a collision course with the United Nations over Tehran's disputed nuclear programme.

AHMADİNEJAD WON BACKING KHAMENEİ

Ahmadinejad has, however, won backing from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for his handling of the nuclear row.

A senior reformist politician said reformists, despite the hurdles, had done well in cities where they had been allowed to run. He forecast they would win 50 to 70 seats, compared to the 40 or so they held in the outgoing 290-member parliament.

"We are planning to join hands with some independents and that will make us stronger, especially because conservatives have deep divisions among themselves," added the politician, a former government official who asked not to be named.

TURNOUT MORE THAN 65 PERCENT

Hasan Khanlou, spokesman at the Interior Ministry's election headquarters, said more than 65 percent of the Islamic Republic's 44 million eligible voters had cast ballots.

The government had called for a high turnout to show Iran's "enemies" in the West that the system enjoyed popular legitimacy. Reformists had also urged their supporters to vote to deny conservatives clear dominance in the next parliament.

The United States, foremost among Western critics of Ahmadinejad, said the vetting process for candidates meant the outcome of voting in the world's fourth largest oil-producing country was "cooked".

EARLY INDICATIONS

No official results were available but the semi-official Fars news agency said early indications showed more than 70 percent of seats had gone to "principlist" candidates -- conservatives sworn to uphold Islamic revolutionary ideals.

Direct comparison with the previous assembly is complicated by fluid factional loyalties and a large group of independents.

Challenges to Ahmadinejad might emerge even from a conservative-led assembly as politicians manoeuvre before next year's presidential vote and home in on his economic policies blamed for inflation, the biggest gripe for ordinary Iranians.

LARIJANI WON 76 PERCENT IN QOM

Fars said Ali Larijani, a conservative seen as a potential presidential rival to Ahmadinejad, had won 76 percent of the vote in his Qom constituency south of Tehran.

Interior Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi said some results would be announced on Saturday.

The Guardian Council, a body of clerics and jurists, barred many reformists when it screened potential candidates on criteria such as commitment to Islam and the clerical system.

Washington has led international efforts to penalise Iran for failing to allay suspicions that it is seeking nuclear weapons. Tehran says its nuclear programme is purely civilian.

The U.N. Security Council has imposed three rounds of sanctions on Iran for refusing to halt sensitive nuclear work.

Agencies
Last Mod: 15 Mart 2008, 13:08
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