Elections win 'shows defiance of the West'

Iran’s leaders today declared the country’s parliament elections, which were carried by conservatives, a victory that showed Iranians’ defiance of the West.

Iran’s leaders today declared the country’s parliament elections, which were carried by conservatives, a victory that showed Iranians’ defiance of the West.

The US and Europe called the vote unfair after most reformists were barred from running.

Vote counting was completed everywhere in the country except for the capital, Tehran, showing conservatives who support Iran’s clerical leadership maintaining the hold they have had on parliament since 2004.

But the conservative camp is split. Allies of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the largest share, but a powerful bloc formed of supporters-turned-opponents of the president’s fiery, confrontational manner and his handling of the ailing economy.

Reformists, who seek greater democracy in Iran and closer ties with the West appeared likely to at least retain the small bloc they held in the outgoing parliament – if not actually increasing it.

The reform movement’s leaders painted the result as a victory, considering the unelected cleric-led Guardian Council threw out most of its members when it disqualified some 1,700 candidates for insufficient loyalty to Islam and Iran’s 1979 revolution.

Washington said Iran’s leadership had “cooked” the election by barring reformists.

The EU said the vote was “neither fair nor free” because the disqualifications prevented Iranians “from being able to choose freely amongst the full range of political views.” It said the barring of reformers was a “clear violation of international norms”.

Iran’s Interior Ministry reported turnout in Friday’s vote at around 60%, up somewhat from 51% in 2004 – though not reaching the around 80% that flooded the polls in elections in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when a full slate of reformist candidates was allowed to run and was swept into power.

Still, Iran’s leaders depicted the increased participation as a show of support of the clerical-led system.

Ahmadinejad said the participation “placed a sign of disgrace on the foreheads of our enemies,” the state news agency IRNA reported today.

Iran’s Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who had backed pro-Ahmadinejad candidates in the race, thanked Iranians for their participation.

“Your epic and powerful presence overcame the enemy’s tricks and turned the enemy’s high-profile psychological war aimed at encouraging a low turnout into a vain bubble,” he said, IRNA reported.

With 190 of parliament’s 290 seats decided, 113 went to conservatives – around 70 to a list dominated by pro-Ahmadinejad hard-liners and the rest to a slate led by his conservative critics, according to individual results announced by state television and the official news agency IRNA.

The numbers are not firm because some winners ran on both lists.

Reformists won 31 seats, according to the results. Another 39 winners were independents whose political leanings were not immediately known. Five other seats dedicated to Iran’s Jewish, Zoroastrian and Christian minorities have been decided.

Reformist leaders said that at least 14 winning independents are pro-reform, bringing their bloc to 45 seats so far. If correct, that would be around the size of the reformist presence in the outgoing parliament.

Races for more than 70 seats will go to a run-off vote set for April or May.

Still unannounced were the results for Tehran’s 30 seats. Ahmadinejad’s allies were heading toward taking at least 14 of the capital’s seats, according to partial results, IRNA reported.

The remaining seats were likely to head to a second round vote, in which reformists were likely to pick up several seats.

But the differences among conservatives heading to parliament could prove significant.

With a strong bloc of Ahmadinejad critics, “large disputes will flare up” in the coming parliament, said political analyst Saeed Laylaz. “Ahmadinejad will not bow to demands by the parliament, and legislators will change his bills based on their wishes.”

It could also encourage a conservative challenge to Ahmadinejad in presidential elections in 2009.

Two leading figures – Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and former top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani – have been touted as possible rivals to Ahmadinejad in the 2009 presidential vote.

Larijani, who left the nuclear post after differences with Ahmadinejad, won a seat in the clerical city of Qom, according to state television.

Ahmadinejad’s critics accuse him of having no clear plan for fixing the economy, hit by high inflation and unemployment.

They say he has monopolised power and that his harsh rhetoric has needlessly heightened the standoff with the West, helping bring UN sanctions.

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