Ahmadinejad allies sieze largest bloc in parliament, but face challenges
TEHRAN, Iran: Allies of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seized the largest share of parliament seats in Iranian elections, nearly complete official results showed Sunday, but he will likely face a more unruly parliament.
Conservative critics of Ahmadinejad won a substantial bloc in the legislature, highlighting the growing discontent with the president’s fiery style and failure to repair the country’s ailing economy.
Reformists appeared likely to at least retain the small bloc they held in the outgoing parliament if not actually increasing it prompting leaders of the movement to paint the election as a victory since most of their candidates were ejected from the race even before it began.
Iran’s clerical leaders cheered the vote, which preserves the lock conservatives have had on the parliament since 2004.
The Interior Ministry reported turnout at around 60 percent, up somewhat from 51 percent in 2004 though not reaching the around 80 percent 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.
Iran’s Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, thanked Iranians for their participation, saying they had turned U.S. attempts to discredit the vote “into a vain bubble.” Washington said Iran’s leadership had “cooked” the election by barring reformists from running.
Ahmadinejad said the participation “placed the sign of disgrace on the forehead of enemies,” the state news agency IRNA reported Sunday.
But the differences among conservatives heading to parliament could prove significant.
If there is 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.
In 190 of parliament’s 290 seats decided so far, pro-Ahmadinejad hard-liners won 67 seats, while a slate seen as representing his conservative critics seized 46, according to individual results announced by state television and the official news agency IRNA.
Reformists won 30 seats, according to the results. Another 42 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 Sunday that at least 14 winning independents are pro-reform, bringing their bloc to 44 seats so far. If correct, that would be around the size of the reformist presence in the outgoing parliament.
Races for more than 50 seats will go to a run-off vote set for April.
Still unannounced were the results for several large provincial cities and most importantly, 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, with both reformist and conservatives contending, IRNA said.
Reformists were hamstrung entering the race after the unelected cleric-run Guardian Council, disqualified 1,700 candidates on grounds of insufficient loyalty to Islam or Iran’s 1979 revolution. Most of them were reformists.
In general, reformists want to reduce the powers of the clergy, who can overrule the elected parliament and president. Reformists also seek democratic reforms at home and improved ties with the West, including the United States.
Conservatives are avid supporters of clerical rule, want stricter Islamic social controls such as on women’s dress than reformists and generally back a tough stance toward the United States.
But Ahmadinejad has opened divisions within the camp since 2005. In the past two years, the economy has been hit by a jump in inflation and unemployment. His government has imposed fuel rationing in the oil-rich country, and there were heating oil shortages during this year’s unusually cold winter.
His critics accuse him of having no clear plan for fixing the economy, relying instead on injections of oil money. They say he governed unevenly, ignoring laws passed by his own conservative-dominated parliament. Some also say his harsh rhetoric has needlessly heightened the standoff with the West, helping bring U.N. sanctions.
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.