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Ahmadinejad critics lead in Iran vote results, but little change expected

An Iranian woman shows the stamps of different elections on her identification card after voting at a polling station at the Massoumeh shrine in the religious city of Qom, 130 kms south of Tehran, on March 2, 2012. (BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Critics of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were leading Saturday in preliminary results from Friday’s parliamentary elections, but analysts stressed that his political clout in the assembly might stay the same, or even grow.

After the vote, for which state television reported a turnout of more than 60 percent, many leading lawmakers who have frequently criticized Ahmadinejad had won reelection, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency.

Former parliamentary speaker and top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, Ahmad Tavakoli and Mohammad-Reza Bahonar, who all retained their Tehran constituency seats, had led rounds of attacks on Ahmadinejad over his handling of the economy, his choice of ministers and his continuing support for some controversial aides. But they have always held back when “higher forces in the system” — in Iranian politics, a coded reference to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — hinted that political instability was hurting the country.

“It is wrong to believe that camps are for or against the president,” said Hamid Reza Taraghi, a political analyst and spokesman for the Islamic Engineers coalition, a group of politically active merchants that has been critical of Ahmadinejad’s management of the economy.

For that reason, analysts said, the outcome of the vote will most likely be a continuation of the policies of the outgoing parliament: ongoing support for Iran’s nuclear program, strong criticism of Ahmadinejad, but — for now — no attempt to impeach him.

Visits to several polling stations in Tehran without government minders suggested that the turnout, while not independently verifiable, was higher than expected, especially after nearly three years of economic hardship, threats of war and a crackdown on domestic protests.

Khamenei had saidlast week that a high turnout would send a message to the West affirming the country’s stability.

Voters offered a range of reasons for going to the polls. Some said they hoped that substantial participation would head off more international sanctions or even war with the West, while others said they just wanted to show support for Iran’s Islamic leaders. Some said they wanted a stamped proof of voting in their identity card to help them get jobs or other perks.

There are no official parties with programs and infrastructure in Iran, only individual candidates, who can place their names on several collective lists. Nationwide, more than 50 percent of candidates are listed under the banners of both main political groups, the United Principlist Front and the Stability Front.

Several of Ahmadinejad’s more radical and outspoken critics were defeated Friday, preliminary results showed, including Hamid Reza Katouzian, head of the parliamentary Energy Committee, who attacked the president over rising gas prices, and Omidvar Rezaee, whose brother lost to Ahmadinejad in the disputed presidential election of 2009.

However, one leading opponent of the president, who has also criticized the supreme leader, appeared to have won by a wide margin. Ali Mottahari, the son of one of the Islamic republic’s founding fathers, had led efforts to summon Ahmadinejad to parliament for questioning, an unprecedented encounter that is scheduled for the coming week.

At the same time, several reformist lawmakers who had sympathized with anti-government protests after the 2009 vote were defeated Friday, meaning that almost all of the legislature’s 290 seats will probably be in the hands of conservative politicians.

In several cities, candidates linked to Ahmadinejad were elected.

In Tehran, but also in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city, and in Qom, a center of Shiite learning, seats were won by candidates under the banner of the Stability Front — a group of hard-line clerics and Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders headed by the ambitious cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, who is widely seen as a spiritual influence on Ahmadinejad.

Some analysts said Saturday that the results might even lead to a boost in the president’s influence in parliament, although they warned that it remains unclear how the Stability Front’s new representatives will vote on some issues.

“We can be sure that the incoming parliament will be moderate toward the president,” Taraghi said. “I don’t expect him to be treated that harshly.”



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