Ahmadinejad's support solid in Iran's parliamentary voting

The Baltimore Sun

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's populism and attacks on the West trumped criticism of his handling of the nation's financial crisis as results released yesterday indicated that the hard-line leader had won strong support in parliamentary elections.

Reformists opposed to the president stood little chance in Friday's voting. Hundreds of their members, including high-profile candidates, had been removed from the ballot by the Guardian Council, a body of clerics and jurists that scrutinizes candidates for loyalty to the country's Islamic system.

Despite this, estimates suggest that reformists could retain 40 of their 50 legislative seats and remain a minority voice.

Interior Minister Mostafa Pour Mohammadi said 71 percent of the 290 seats in parliament will go to conservative factions and 29 percent to "other" groups. He added that 60 percent of the country's 43 million voters turned out - a figure that ruling clerics described as a "glorious" defeat to the interests of the U.S. and other Western enemies.

Final returns will be released tomorrow after the votes from the capital, Tehran, and other cities are counted. Mohammadi said the figures probably won't change more than 2 or 3 percentage points.

The political gamesmanship shifts to two factions within the conservative camp: one that supports Ahmadinejad and another that blames him for high inflation and unemployment. Analysts said Ahmadinejad's supporters appeared to have won more seats, a testament to his appeal in the provinces and his rhetoric against the West over Iran's nuclear enrichment program.

One of the conservatives opposed to the president, former chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, was elected to parliament with more than 75 percent of the vote. It is uncertain, however, if he can pull together a conservative coalition to balance Ahmadinejad's religious hard-liners. Political allegiances in the parliament are often difficult to gauge; members are known to alter their ideologies when they take office. Larijani is considered much more moderate than the president.

Analysts say pressure on Ahmadinejad could intensify if the economy worsens. The president's strategy of using oil revenues for funding building projects to patch over deeper economic problems has led to a jump in inflation to about 18 percent.

Reformists spent yesterday assessing their marginalization and how to be a small, but potent, minority. Reformists said, however, that they were winning more seats than anticipated and might end up with more than 60.

"The very presence of the reformers in the election campaign is a victory for them," said Reza Kaviyani, a reformist analyst. "The [conspiracy] was to delete them from any competition. So, even five or six reformers in the Eighth Parliament can be good enough for the reformist struggle toward a further open society."

Jeffrey Fleishman and Ramin Mostaghim write for the Los Angeles Times.

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