Clerical hard-liners appear headed for big victory in Iran

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REPORTING FROM TEHRAN AND BEIRUT -- Iranian officials Saturday were touting a high turnout in parliamentary elections that most analysts predict will bolster clerical hard-liners and do nothing to defuse global tension arising from Iran’s nuclear program.

The Interior Ministry said Saturday that 64.2% of the nation’s eligible voters cast ballots in Friday’s elections, close to the 65% figure that officials had predicted in a campaign that saw the government equating voting with loyalty to the 1979 Islamic Revolution.


Turnout has become a pivotal focus as Iran’s leadership seeks to restore its international credibility after the disputed 2009 presidential election, which sparked widespread allegations of vote-rigging and months of protests.

Government opponents called for a silent boycott of Friday’s elections, alleging that dissent had been crushed and that reform-minded candidates were blocked from running. The government denied any effort to shut out reformist views and launched a massive get-out-the-vote campaign.

Although final results won’t be available for another day or two, various press accounts predicted an overwhelming victory for parties professing their primary loyalty to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The official Press TV network cited “unconfirmed reports” that candidates associated with pro-Khamenei factions could take as many as 75% of the seats in the 290-seat parliament, or Majlis.

Analysts have viewed the race as a contest between two hard-line camps: the supreme leader’s adherents and backers of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose disputed reelection triggered the mass protests of 2009. Since his reelection, some have questioned Ahmadinejad’s loyalty to the clergy’s preeminent place in the nation’s Islamist rule.

Ahmadinejad, who is not a cleric, did not run in Friday’s contest, but his enthusiasts could be headed for a thumping. Early reports indicated that Parvin Ahmadinejad, the president’s sister, failed in her bid to win a parliamentary seat from the family hometown.

The legislative elections are significant in political positioning for next year’s presidential race. Ahmadinejad’s term ends in 2013 and, under current law, he cannot run again.

Iran’s political divide, experts say, is an internal one and unlikely to result in any shift in the nation’s nuclear policy or its core antipathy to the West. Election debate focused on Iran’s ailing economy, battered by galloping inflation, high unemployment and an expanding number of international sanctions.

Both major camps are vehemently anti-Washington. Both defend the nation’s nuclear research program, which they say is for peaceful purposes.

Western and other governments worry that Iran may be planning to build a nuclear weapon. That has triggered speculation of a potential U.S. or Israeli preemptive strike on the nation’s nuclear facilities.

President Obama warned in a magazine interview last week that he wasn’t bluffing about the threat of possible U.S. military action should Iran move to build a nuclear weapon.


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-- Ramin Mostaghim and Patrick J. McDonnell