Fri, Dec 22, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Opposition win undermines president

AP , TEHRAN

Final results yesterday showed that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's opponents have won elections for local councils in Iran, an embarrassing blow to the hardline leader.

Moderate conservatives opposed to Ahmadinejad won a majority of the seats, followed by reformists who were suppressed by hardliners in 2004, according to final results from last Friday's local elections announced by the Interior Ministry.

The vote is widely seen as a sign of public discontent with Ahmadinejad's hardline stances, which have fueled fights with the West and led Iran closer to UN sanctions.

Ahmadinejad's anti-Israel rhetoric and staunch stand on Iran's disputed nuclear program are believed to have divided the conservatives who voted him into power last year. Some conservatives feel Ahmadinejad has spent too much time confronting the US and its allies and failed to deal with Iran's struggling economy.

The voting also represented a partial comeback for reformists, who favor closer ties with the West and further loosening of social and political restrictions under the Islamic government.

In Tehran, candidates supporting Mayor Mohammed Bagher Qalibaf, a moderate conservative, won seven of the 15 council seats. Reformists won four, while Ahmadinejad's allies won three. The last seat went to a wrestling champion who is considered an independent.

The election does not directly effect Ahmadinejad's administration and is not expected to bring immediate policy changes. The local councils handle community matters in cities and town across the country.

But it represented the first time the public has weighed in on Ahmadinejad's stormy presidency since he took office in June last year. The results are expected to pressure him to change his populist anti-Western tone and focus more on Iran's high unemployment and economic problems at home.

Similar anti-Ahmadinejad sentiment was visible in the final results of a parallel election held to select members of the Assembly of Experts, a conservative body of 86 senior clerics that monitors Iran's supreme leader and chooses his successor.

A big boost for moderates within the ruling Islamic establishment was visible in the big number of votes for former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, who lost to Ahmadinejad in last year's presidential election runoff.

Rafsanjani, who supports dialogue with the US, received the most votes of any Tehran candidate to win re-election to the assembly. Also elected was Hasan Rowhani, Iran's former top nuclear negotiator.

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