Ahmadinejad allies last in final Tehran vote count

Thursday, December 21, 2006; 3:28 AM

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Final results in the election race for Tehran City Council on Thursday showed allies of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had gained the fewest seats among the main political groups.

Analysts see the results, which confirm preliminary counts, as a political setback for the anti-Western president and a possible sign of public frustration with Iran's increasing diplomatic isolation and economic woes.

Although Friday's elections for local councils and a powerful clerical body known as the Assembly of Experts will not have a direct impact on policy, they may encourage moderate voices to challenge the president more forcefully.

"What both political wings of the country have learned from the election is that the people prefer moderate policies to populist slogans and strategies," the pro-reform Etemad-e Melli daily wrote on Thursday.

The elections were a success for more traditional conservatives who have expressed alarm at Ahmadinejad's confrontational international stance and free-spending policies.

In the Tehran race, moderate conservative backers of Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, a bitter rival of Ahmadinejad, secured a majority of the council's 15 seats, the official IRNA news agency said.

Qalibaf, a former Revolutionary Guards commander who ran against Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential elections, is now almost certain to remain mayor of the capital, a position which Ahmadinejad used as a springboard to the presidency.

Reformists, swept from elected positions in a series of votes since 2003, regained a toehold on power in Friday's polls. In Tehran reformists took four seats on the council where they previously held none.

A political group closely identified with the president, calling itself the Pleasant Scent of Service, took just three Tehran seats. The highest placed vote getter on their list was a sister of Ahmadinejad in eighth place.

Ahmadinejad has not commented on the election results, preferring to emphasize voter turnout of above 60 percent, well above previous similar elections.

Reformists fared well in provincial races, claiming to have taken almost 40 percent of council seats outside Tehran. Women also did better than in previous years, forming almost half of those elected in several city councils.

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