Iran General NewsIran conservatives fete victory in contested polls

Iran conservatives fete victory in contested polls

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AFP: Conservatives on Monday celebrated winning an expected three-quarter parliament majority in Iran’s elections, as the Islamic republic angrily denied EU accusations the polls were “neither fair nor free”. TEHRAN (AFP) — Conservatives on Monday celebrated winning an expected three-quarter parliament majority in Iran’s elections, as the Islamic republic angrily denied EU accusations the polls were “neither fair nor free”.

With results from Tehran still to be confirmed, the interior ministry said conservatives would control 74 percent of the 290 seats in parliament, with the rest going to reformists and independents.

Conservatives who have been critical of firebrand President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were set to have a reasonable representation, although it remains to be seen how this will affect his chances in 2009 presidential polls.

Once results from second round run-offs next month are confirmed in 65 seats, “the eighth parliament will have a decisive majority of principalists,” said Shahabeddin Sadr, the spokesman of the main conservative coalition.

Runoffs are held for leading candidates who polled less than 25 percent.

Iran’s conservatives like to call themselves “principalists” to emphasise their loyalty to the vision of the 1979 Islamic revolution that ousted the pro-US shah.

But the elections have been beset by controversy over the disqualifications of hundreds of reformist candidates in pre-vote vetting, which effectively guaranteed that conservatives would retain control of the chamber.

As the conservatives celebrated, the United States and the European Union voiced harsh criticism.

“It was a highly restricted process that did not allow the Iranian people real free and fair opportunity to express their views and certainly did not allow those who might have wished to run an opportunity to do so,” US State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.

The pre-vote disqualifications meant “the election was neither fair nor free”, said the European Union’s Slovenian presidency.

Iran, which described turnout of around 60 percent as a “glorious” show of national unity and faith in the Islamic republic, reacted furiously to the EU statement, which was issued before the State Department’s criticism.

“The issuing of this statement by the EU presidency is hasty, has political intentions and is opportunist and unacceptable,” said foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini.

Deputy Interior Minister Mohammad Hossein Moussapour said: “The Iranian people managed to deal a blow to Americans.”

The reformist vote nonetheless appears to have held up well and the embattled moderates can expect to build slightly on their current representation of around 40 MPs when the results are confirmed.

Conservatives had split, in a sign of disagreement about the populist policies of Ahmadinejad.

The Broad Principalist Coalition broke away from the traditional conservative coalition the United Conservative Front for Friday’s vote, after a row about the candidates on the conservative list for Tehran.

The Broad conservatives are seen as being critical of the policies of the Ahmadinejad government, which has been accused even inside Iran of stoking inflation and inflaming the nuclear crisis with the West.

As is usual in the hugely complex world of Iranian politics, the two coalitions shared many candidates but others also ran only for one list.

Amir Ali Amiri, the election coordinator for the Broad coalition, said according to partial results it would have 80 MPs in the next parliament, 32 of whom had stood only for the Broad conservatives.

“Our trend is principalist but we are critical of the government,” Amiri told reporters.

It has been difficult throughout the election to provide a clear breakdown for the seats in parliament, with the second round still to be decided and the authorities keener to emphasise turnout than the results.

A strong presence among the Broad conservatives is likely to stoke expectations that the next parliament will give Ahmadinejad a rougher ride than the current one.

Amiri said that their top choice for parliament speaker would be Ali Larijani, who stepped down as Iran’s top nuclear negotiator last year after differences with the president, who he has since heavily criticised.

Larijani was elected MP for the clerical city of Qom on Friday with a landslide majority.

Compared with other legislatures in the region, Iran’s parliament wields a respectable amount of power, but its capacities are limited by the unelected Guardians Council, which must approve all legislation.

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