Sun, May 06, 2012 - Page 6 News List

Conservatives take lead in Iranian poll

HARD BLOW:Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s supporters have been soundly beaten in the runoff, which is seen as a triumph for the country’s religious leadership

AP, TEHRAN

Final results for many Iranian parliamentary constituencies announced yesterday show supporters of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad relegated to a small fraction of the legislature, hugely outnumbered by the conservatives who once backed him, but then turned against him after he was perceived to challenge the authority of top clerics.

Iran has touted the turnout for Friday’s elections as a show of support for the country’s religious leadership in their confrontation with the West over Tehran’s controversial nuclear program.

It also represents another blow against the populist president who, while allied with the conservatives on foreign policy and many other issues, had tried to change the rules of the political game in the Islamic Republic, where the president and legislature are subordinate to religious figures like Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The new parliament will begin its sessions later this month. It has no direct control over major policy matters like Iran’s nuclear program, but it can influence the run-up to the election of Ahmadinejad’s successor next year.

Of 65 seats for grabs in Friday’s runoff election, Ahmadinejad’s opponents won 20, while the president’s supporters got only 8 seats. Independents won 11, according to the state media early yesterday.

Results for the rest, including the capital Tehran, were expected later in the day. About nine Ahmadinejad supporters are likely to win seats in Tehran where they were in a neck-and-neck race. The president’s opponents are almost certain to win the remaining 16 seats.

Ahmadinejad’s opponents had already won an outright majority in the 290-member legislature in the first round of voting in March.

Iran’s major reformist parties, who oppose both Ahmadinejad and the conservatives, mostly did not field candidates.

The results suggest Ahmadinejad will face a more belligerent parliament in the remaining time of the second four-year term in office that ends in August next year. His allies are likely to be ousted from key posts, and his economic policies challenged.

Iran’s media has claimed that the turnout yesterday matched that of the initial round of voting on March 2, when 64 percent of voters reportedly cast ballots.

“Mass turnout in runoff parliamentary elections,” declared a front-page headline in the government-run Iran Daily.

Iranian leaders have showcased the high voter turnout as a sign of trust in the clerical-led system and rejection of Western pressure over the nuclear issue. The West suspects Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons and is demanding that Iran stop uranium enrichment. Iran has refused, saying its program is aimed at power generation and cancer treatment.

“The vote is support for the ruling system as it faces the US and its allies over the nuclear program ... The vote also means that tensions will increase between Ahmadinejad and his opponents in the incoming parliament,” political analyst Ali Reza Khamesian said.

Ahmadinejad was voted in for a second term in 2009 in a hotly disputed election with the backing of the clerical establishment. However, he has seen his political fortunes decline sharply after he was perceived to have defied Khamenei in April last year over the appointment of an intelligence chief and tried to expand the authority of the presidency.

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