Conservatives ahead as Iran counts vote
Conservatives were Saturday expected to win Iran's legislative election, but with reformists set to retain a foothold in parliament despite the mass vetoing of their candidates before the vote.
As first results were announced, the authorities hailed a "glorious" participation of over 65 per cent in Friday's poll, far higher than the lacklustre figure in the previous election in 2004.
According to an AFP tally based on final interior ministry results, reformists had won eight seats out of the 40 announced so far and conservatives 16, with the rest going to independent candidates.
Results from smaller towns and cities were to be announced Saturday but those from Tehran -- which will deliver 30 MPs to the 290-seat parliament -- would not be announced for several days, officials said.
The main reformist coalition could only field 102 candidates for the 260 seats outside Tehran due to the pre-vote disqualifications but was still expecting to win 44 of these seats, its spokesman Abdollah Nasseri told AFP.
If confirmed, this would mean that reformists have managed to keep a respectable minority in parliament, where they currently have around 40 MPs.
The semi-official Fars news agency projected that conservatives were set to reap 70 per cent of the seats while English-language state television channel Press-TV said they had won 65 seats out of 89 decided so far.
The authorities had called for a huge turnout to send a message of national unity to Iran's enemies amid continued tensions with the West over its nuclear drive.
"Fortunately and contrary to our expectations, the participation has been overwhelming," Interior Minister Mostafa Pour Mohammadi said. "There has been a good increase on the participation in the last parliamentary elections."
Iran's former top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, standing for conservatives in the holy city of Qom, was elected to parliament in a landslide victory with 76 percent of the vote, Fars said.
"Our list nationwide has been welcomed by the people and this is a sign of the trust people have in the service of the principalists," spokesman for the main conservative coalition, Shahabeddin Sadr, told AFP.
But Iran's archfoe the United States condemned the elections as "cooked" after the hardline Guardians Council vetoed hundreds of reformist candidates deemed insufficiently loyal to the Islamic revolution.
The results are "cooked in the sense that the Iranian people were not able to vote for a full range of people," US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in reference to the disqualifications.
Reformists enjoyed their high point between 2000-2004 when they controlled parliament and their champion Mohammad Khatami was president.
But they were left with only a few dozen seats in parliament after the 2004 elections and the hardline Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took over the presidency a year later.
Results from Tehran will be keenly awaited to see if reformists have recovered some of their former strength as here both groups have fielded full lists of candidates and competed relatively evenly with conservatives.
Polls finally closed late on Friday night after being extended by several hours to cope with the number of people seeking to vote, officials said.
Conservatives have split into "Broad" and "Unified" factions, with the former seen as less enthusiastic about the populist policies of Ahmadinejad although there is considerable overlap between the two.
But sidelining of reformists nationwide means it will be difficult to use the vote as a barometer of Ahmadinejad's popularity, despite discontent over inflation rates of almost 18 per cent.
Compared with other chambers in the region, the Iranian parliament wields a respectable amount of power but its capacities are limited by the unelected Guardians Council, which must approve all legislation. (AFP)
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