Iranian conservatives set to retain majority

TEHRAN, March 16: Conser-vatives appeared to be winning a majority in Iran’s parliament, showing Iranians’ defiance of the West, state television said on Sunday. The United States and Europe called the vote unfair after a number of pro-West reformists were barred from running.

Partial results from Tehran showed a resounding victory for conservatives, with parliament speaker Gholam Ali Hadad Adel polling the most votes.

He was followed by 13 other conservatives, including four members of the Sweet Scent of Service list of diehard Ahmadinejad loyalists, who were set to be elected directly to parliament without having to go into a run-off.

Iran’s former top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, standing for conservatives in the holy city of Qom and tipped as a future speaker, was elected by a landslide 70 per cent-plus of the vote.

Reformists, who seek closer ties with the US and its Western allies, were likely to retain a small bloc in the new parliament.

The reform movement’s leaders painted the result as a victory, saying the Guardian Council, a body of clerics and jurists, had thrown out its 1,700 candidates for insufficient loyalty to Islam and Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Washington said Iran’s leadership had “cooked” the election by barring reformists.

The European Union said on Sunday the vote was “neither fair nor free” because the disqualifications prevented Iranians “from being able to choose freely amongst the full range of political views.”

Iran’s Interior Ministry reported the turnout in Friday’s vote at around 60 per cent, up somewhat from 51 per cent in the 2004 elections.

Iran’s President Ahmadinejad said the election turnout had “placed a sign of disgrace on the foreheads of our enemies,” the state news agency IRNA reported on Sunday.

Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who had backed pro-Ahmadinejad candidates in the race, thanked Iranians for their massive participation in the election.

“Your epic and powerful presence overcame the enemy’s tricks and turned the enemy’s high-profile psychological war aimed at encouraging a low turnout into a vain bubble,” IRNA quoted Ayatollah Khamenei as saying.

With 190 of parliament’s 290 seats decided, 113 went to conservatives — around 70 to a list dominated by pro-Ahmadinejad hard-liners and the rest to a slate led by his conservative critics, according to individual results announced by state television and the official news agency IRNA. The numbers are not firm because some winners ran on both lists.

Reformists won 31 seats, according to the results. Another 39 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.

Races for more than 70 seats will go to a run-off vote set for April or May.

Iranian officials have hailed the election as a victory over the United States, the Islamic Republic’s arch-foe.

“More than 70 percent of parliament seats belong to principlists,” Shahabeddin Sadr, projected to win a seat for the conservatives in Tehran, said.

“It is a great honour that people put their trust in us again.”

It remains to be seen how supportive the new parliament will be of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.—Agencies