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Iran conservatives win parliament majority

Tehran, March 16, 2008

Conservatives claimed a clear victory in Iran's parliamentary election on Sunday, but the new legislature may still give President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a tougher time ahead of next year's presidential poll.

The hardline president's reformist opponents tried to capitalise on public discontent over high inflation in the world's fourth-largest oil producer but many of their leading candidates were barred from running in Friday's vote.

Conservatives, who call themselves "principlists" for loyalty to the Islamic Republic's ideals, have taken 120 seats in the 290-member assembly against 46 for reformists so far, the state Press TV station has reported. That figure did not include Tehran, where conservatives were also leading, according to official media.

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

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

But even if the conservatives' victory is confirmed, 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 him of stoking inflation, now at 19 percent, 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 who declined to be named said. "It will be a case to case situation."         

Many reformists, who said they did well in view of the odds against them, also said they expect Ahmadinejad to undergo sharper scrutiny even in a conservative-controlled parliament.

"The president will face more challenges with the next parliament than he did with the current one," said Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a close ally of reformist ex-President Mohammad Khatami.

Another reformist, Javad Ranjbar, said his allies could still strengthen their position by winning seats in run-off votes to be held where no candidate had secured enough support.

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

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. - Reuters




Tags: Iran | Poll | Conservatives |

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