Ahmadinejad's allies struggle in Iran elections

By Edmund Blair
Sunday, December 17, 2006; 11:07 AM

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's allies failed to dominate elections for a powerful Iranian clerical body and local councils, early results showed on Sunday, in what analysts said was a setback to the president's standing.

Friday's twin elections for the clerical Assembly of Experts and local councils, the first nationwide vote since Ahmadinejad took office in 2005, will not directly impact policy.

But turnout of around 60 percent and Ahmadinejad's close identification with some candidates, particularly in Tehran, suggested a shift toward more moderate policies and away from the president's ultra-conservative line.

Although not Iran's most powerful figure, Ahmadinejad's anti-Israel and anti-Western statements alarm the West, which fears Iran is seeking an atomic bomb despite Tehran's denials.

"The results show that voters have learned from the past and concluded that we need to support ... moderate figures," the daily Kargozaran said in an editorial.

Kargozaran is close to former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a moderate cleric who state media said led the count in Tehran for the Assembly of Experts. Rafsanjani lost to Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential race.

Lower down the list but still with enough votes to retain a seat, was Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, a firebrand cleric who advocates cultural isolation from the West and is widely seen as the spiritual mentor of Ahmadinejad.

Two candidates, identified by clerics as Mesbah-Yazdi allies, were out of the running in Tehran, the official IRNA news agency said. Three Mesbah-Yazdi supporters lost in other regions though at least one was known to have secured a seat.

"This is a blow for Ahmadinejad and Mesbah-Yazdi's list," said one political analyst, who declined to be quoted by name.


The Assembly of Experts has more power than the president or parliament because it supervises the supreme leader. But conservative clerics have tended to keep it out of everyday politics and analysts say this is likely to remain the case.

Friday's main battleground was Tehran City Council, where Ahmadinejad supporters competed against backers of a more moderate conservative, Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf.

Final results for Tehran are not expected until Tuesday but partial tallies reported by Iranian news agencies showed Qalibaf's group dominating with about nine of the 15 seats.

The rest were split between Ahmadinejad backers and the pro-reform camp, seeking a comeback after being routed in a series of polls.

Reformists said they had won at least six Tehran seats, and demanded election officials announce the results. They said the delay raised questions about the counting process.

"We have serious doubts about whether these problems are due to a lack of organization at the Interior Ministry or whether there are some efforts to tamper with votes," Mohammad Ali Najafi, a reformist candidate in Tehran, told Reuters.

Analysts said the outcome could boost moderate conservatives who say Ahmadinejad is trying to monopolize power around his close allies and ignoring the rest of the conservative camp.

"It is a signal for Ahmadinejad," said conservative commentator Amir Mohebian, who added that the president was still popular in the provinces.

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