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Ahmadinejad to face stronger opposition

Latest update : 2008-03-15

After partial reporting of election results, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is set to face a stronger opposition in his conservative ruling coalition.

Iran counted votes on Saturday  after an election set to maintain
the grip of conservatives on parliament, but which looked likely to
bring in more voices critical of hardline President Mahmoud

Many of Ahmadinejad's reformist foes, seeking political and
social change and trying to capitalise on public discontent over
high inflation, were blocked from standing in Friday's election.

Conservatives, committed to defending Islamic revolutionary
ideals, were expected to keep the upper hand in parliament.

But their ranks include political rivals of the president,
as well as committed supporters, and some analysts saw
Ahmadinejad facing sharper criticism at home in the future.

"The next parliament will definitely be more critical of
Ahmadinejad and they will try to expose him more," said an
Iranian political analyst, who did not wish to be named.

The analyst said splits had opened up among conservatives
jockeying for position before the 2009 race for the presidency.

Some conservatives have found themselves on the same side as
reformists by criticising Ahmadinejad for fiery speeches that
have kept Iran on a collision course with the United Nations
over Tehran's disputed nuclear programme.

Ahmadinejad has, however, won backing from Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for his handling of the nuclear row.

A senior reformist politician said reformists, despite the
hurdles, had done well in cities where they had been allowed to
run. He forecast they would win 50 to 70 seats, compared to the
40 or so they held in the outgoing 290-member parliament.

"We are planning to join hands with some independents and
that will make us stronger, especially because conservatives
have deep divisions among themselves," added the politician, a
former government official who asked not to be named.

Hasan Khanlou, spokesman at the Interior Ministry's election
headquarters, said more than 65 percent of the Islamic
Republic's 44 million eligible voters had cast ballots.

The government had called for a high turnout to show Iran's
"enemies" in the West that the system enjoyed popular
legitimacy. Reformists had also urged their supporters to vote
to deny conservatives clear dominance in the next parliament.

The United States, foremost among Western critics of
Ahmadinejad, said the vetting process for candidates meant the
outcome of voting in the world's fourth largest oil-producing
country was "cooked".


No official results were available but the semi-official
Fars news agency said early indications showed more than 70
percent of seats had gone to "principlist" candidates --
conservatives sworn to uphold Islamic revolutionary ideals.

Direct comparison with the previous assembly is complicated
by fluid factional loyalties and a large group of independents.

Challenges to Ahmadinejad might emerge even from a
conservative-led assembly as politicians manoeuvre before next
year's presidential vote and home in on his economic policies
blamed for inflation, the biggest gripe for ordinary Iranians.

Fars said Ali Larijani, a conservative seen as a potential
presidential rival to Ahmadinejad, had won 76 percent of the
vote in his Qom constituency south of Tehran.

Interior Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi said some results
would be announced on Saturday.

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.

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.

The U.N. Security Council has imposed three rounds of
sanctions on Iran for refusing to halt sensitive nuclear work.

Date created : 2008-03-15