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Ahmadinejad critics make gains in parliamentary vote

Sun., March 16, 2008, midnight

TEHRAN, Iran – Conservative opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a strong showing in parliamentary elections, according to partial results Saturday. The split could mean friction between the president and former supporters disillusioned by his fiery, populist rule.

Reformists, meanwhile, claimed to have made better-than-expected gains even though most of their candidates were thrown out of the race by Iran’s clerical leadership.

If reformists succeed in expanding the largely muted bloc of about 40 lawmakers they had in the outgoing parliament, it would be a blow to hard-line attempts to bury the movement, which calls for reducing the power of clerics and opening up to the West.

The Interior Ministry put turnout in Friday’s vote at about 60 percent – up from 51 percent in 2004 parliament elections. Grouping all conservative factions together, it said they had won just more than 70 percent of the seats so far with most of the nation counted, without giving an exact number.

But the differences among conservatives could prove significant.

Ahmadinejad’s allies were on track to grab the largest share of the 290-member parliament. But they appeared likely to face a strong minority of conservative opponents and reformists.

If that happens, “large disputes will flare up” in the coming parliament, said political analyst Saeed Laylaz.

Returns from Friday’s voting rolled in from many parts of the country, but the biggest prize – Tehran, with 30 seats – was still up in the air.

Of 158 parliament seats decided so far, pro-Ahmadinejad hard-liners won 57, while a slate seen as representing his conservative critics won 40, according to results announced by state television and the official news agency IRNA.

Reformists won 24 seats, according to the results. Another 37 winners were independents whose political leanings were not immediately known. Races for more than 30 seats will go to a runoff vote scheduled for April.

Reformist spokesman Abdollah Nasseri said the movement had won at least 34 seats so far. He explained the discrepancy by saying many pro-reform candidates ran as independents.

“We won in an unequal competition. We proudly announce victory,” Nasseri told reporters. “Supporters of the government faced a significant defeat.”

Reformists were hamstrung entering the race after the unelected cleric-run Guardian Council used its powers to disqualify 1,700 candidates on grounds of insufficient loyalty to Islam or Iran’s 1979 revolution.


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