Iran conservatives tighten grip on parliament

After a landslide victory in the March 14 first-round parliamentary vote, the Iranian conservative party confirmed the trend in Saturday's run-off vote, securing 69% of seats in parliament to the reformists' 16%. (Report: R.Ranucci)


Iranian conservatives were heading for a crushing victory in parliamentary elections on Saturday over reformists who were sidelined by mass pre-vote disqualifications, partial results showed.

Eighty-two seats in the 290 seat parliament were at stake in the run-off voting on Saturday after the first round on March 14 left conservatives assured of taking a majority in the next parliament.

Conservatives were set to take 10 out of the 11 seats in the capital Tehran, having already swept up all 19 of the seats that were available in the first round, election officials said.

Just one reformist, Ali Reza Mahjoub, was set to sit in the new parliament for Tehran after squeezing into 11th place in the second round.

Partial results from the provinces showed that the reformist vote had held up respectably, however, and reformists were on course to take at least a dozen second round seats, giving them a minority of around 50 seats in parliament.

However, the conservative-controlled parliament is not expected to be wholeheartedly supportive of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has alienated many of his fellow conservatives with controversial policies and speeches.

Economists blame the president's expansionary economic policies for stoking inflation, while his provocative attacks on opponents and frequent changes to his cabinet have also stirred controversy.

Officials said Interior Minister Mostafa Pour Mohammadi would be stepping down just days after the election he was supposed to be organising, in the ninth change to Ahmadinejad's cabinet since he was elected.

Ahmadinejad's arch-rival, pragmatic former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, criticised the interior ministry switch as he cast his vote in Tehran, in comments reprinted on the front pages of all the reformist press.

"Any move that may cast doubt on people's participation and votes should be avoided and this issue will be shown in the people's participation," the Fars news agency quoted him as saying.

In the past week Ahmadinejad has been locked in a bitter public row with parliament speaker Gholam Ali Hadad Adel over implementing past legislation and also replaced his economy minister, Davoud Danesh Jaafari.

As he left office, Jaafari launched a withering attack on Ahmadinejad of a nature rarely seen in Iranian politics, accusing the president of concerning himself only with "peripheral" issues.

Turnout appeared to be down sharply on the first round -- when the authorities hailed participation of around 60 percent as a blow to Iran's Western enemies -- but officials insisted this was normal.

Deputy Interior Minister Ali Reza Afshar said turnout was up eight percent on the second round in 2004, without giving further details.

The authorities published no official figures over the share of seats after the first round, but according to estimates at least 130 were conservatives, more than 30 reformists and the remainder independents.

Reformists complained bitterly after hundreds of their best candidates were disqualified in pre-election vetting for not meeting the criteria required of MPs, including loyalty to the Islamic revolution.

The West reacted with suspicion after the conservative victory in the first round, which the United States called "cooked."

But some reformists still appeared to be encouraged by their performance in the second round: "New hope for the reformists," was the headline in the reformist Etemad newspaper.

The reformists dominated the Islamic republic's sixth parliament from 2000-2004 when their champion Mohammad Khatami was president and sought to promote economic liberalisation accompanied by very cautious social reform.

But they lost out badly in 2004 elections, again after the disqualification of many of their candidates, and since Ahmadinejad won the presidency in 2005 polls their influence has declined drastically.

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