/ 17 March 2008

Conservatives claim victory in Iranian election

Conservatives won a majority in Iran’s parliamentary vote, state television said on Sunday, but the new assembly may still give President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a tougher time ahead of next year’s presidential election.

Western powers embroiled in a deepening stand-off with Tehran over its disputed nuclear plans condemned Friday’s election as unfair after many reformist politicians, the hardline president’s staunchest critics, were barred from running.

But even though pro-reformers will only have a minority in the new legislature of world’s fourth-largest oil-producer, analysts say they could team up with more moderate conservatives who have voiced concern about Ahmadinejad’s economic policies blamed for surging inflation.

State-owned Press TV said the conservatives, who call themselves ”principlists” for loyalty to the Islamic Republic’s ideals, have taken at least 163 seats in the 290-member assembly against 40 for the reformists so far.

The English-language satellite channel, citing the Interior Ministry, said most votes had been counted. Some seats would go to run-offs and 47 winners were classified as independents. The conservatives also controlled the outgoing Parliament.

Iranian officials have hailed the election as a victory over the United States, the Islamic Republic’s arch-foe, which on the day of voting said the result was ”cooked”.

”More than 70% of Parliament seats belong to principlists,” Shahabeddin Sadr, projected to win a seat for the conservatives in Tehran, told Reuters. ”It is a great honour that people put their trust in us again.”

But the European Union, whose main members agree with US suspicions that Iran is making nuclear weapons, said the election was ”neither fair nor free”.

The Guardian Council, a body of clerics and jurists, barred many reformists when it screened potential candidates on criteria such as commitment to Islam and the clerical system.

The 27-nation EU ”expresses its deep regret and disappointment that over a third of prospective candidates were prevented from standing in this year’s parliamentary elections”, the bloc’s presidency said in a statement issued in Brussels.


Iran’s Interior Ministry, which supervised the vote, has said a final nationwide tally might not come out until Monday.

But even if the conservatives won the election, analysts said divisions among politicians ranging from radical backers of Ahmadinejad to his more pragmatic critics could widen as they jockey for position before the 2009 presidential race.

Reformists, who seek political and social change, and some conservatives have accused the president of stoking inflation, now at more than 19%, by lavishly spending Iran’s windfall oil revenues on subsidies, loans and handouts.

”You could have a possibility of some of the conservatives making a coalition with the reformists and making it difficult for the president to pass his Bills,” one Iranian analyst said.

Pro-reform politicians have also rebuked Ahmadinejad for speeches that have kept Iran on a collision course with the United Nations over Tehran’s nuclear programme.

However, Ahmadinejad has won public backing from Iran’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has endorsed his handling of the nuclear row.

Iran’s leaders had called for a high turnout as a show of defiance for its ”enemies” in the West: ”The US was the real loser and it was the Iranian people … who emerged victorious,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mohammad Ali Hosseini said.

Washington has led international efforts to penalise Iran for failing to allay suspicions that it is seeking nuclear weapons. Tehran says its nuclear programme is purely civilian. – Reuters