Iran right sweeps to win in disputed election
TEHRAN - Islamic conservatives hostile to President Mohammad Khatami's liberal reforms swept toward a predictable victory over shackled reformists this morning (NZ time) after a disputed parliamentary election with a sharply reduced turnout.
Interior Ministry figures showed conservatives won 133 of the first 194 provincial seats declared, deputy parliament speaker Behzad Nabavi said. A total of 289 seats were at stake.
Reformists won 37, independents 17 and five were reserved for Iran's religious minorities -- Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians. In 31 districts where no candidate polled more than 25 per cent, there will be a run-off later.
There was not one woman among the first 194 lawmakers elected. There were 13 in the outgoing parliament.
Reformists branded the election rigged and many boycotted it after the unelected hardline Guardian Council banned 2,500 mainly reformist candidates, including 80 sitting lawmakers, prompting Washington to say the vote was neither free nor fair.
"Unfortunately, this was not a free election," said Mostafa Tajzadeh, a leader of the main reformist party, the Islamic Iran Participation Front, which boycotted the poll. "Our belief from the outset that the conservatives would win was proved right."
A conservative majority could spell an end to Khatami's seven-year experiment in allowing greater freedom of speech and loosening Islamic cultural and social restrictions, a drive that hard-liners have tried to obstruct at every turn.
DISPUTE OVER TURNOUT
State radio and television, keen to assert the reformist boycott had had no impact, announced a 60 per cent turnout.
But Vice-President Mohammad Ali Abtahi said the national turnout was about 50 per cent and in Tehran just 29 per cent, sharply down on the 67 per cent who voted nationwide in 2000, when Khatami's reformist allies won two thirds of the seats.
Reformist lawmaker Ali Shakurirad, banned from standing again, told a news conference the fact that half the nation had not voted and more than 70 per cent had stayed home in Tehran was a big defeat for the hardline clerics.
But apathy and disillusionment at the slow pace of Khatami's reforms may have had as much impact as boycott calls.
The lowest turnout for a parliamentary election since the 1979 Islamic Revolution was 53 per cent in 1980.
With a quarter of the votes in the 30-seat Tehran electoral district counted, conservatives of the Alliance for the Advancement of Islamic Iran held the top 20 places, the Iran Students News Agency said.
Conservative commentator Amir Mohebian, a policy adviser to Iran's senior clerical leaders, suggested the victors would use a velvet glove rather than an iron fist, and the new assembly would usher in a second phase of more effective reforms.
Abtahi said it was up to the conservatives now to keep their promises not to interfere with people's social freedom.
But political analyst Hossein Rassam forecast an escalation of factional conflict and a crackdown.
"The reformists are aware that the conservatives will try to make deals with the European Union and will try to prevent this by being outspoken about the state of democracy in Iran," he told Reuters. "This will antagonise the hard-liners and will lead to arrests, the closure of more newspapers and so on."
SATAN'S PLOTS FOILED
The Guardian Council said that by voting in large numbers Iranians had "foiled all the plots and plans of the enemies of religion and the nation, including the Great Satan, America."
Both the United States and the European Union voiced concern on Friday at the conduct of the poll, particularly the mass exclusion of reformist candidates.
"These actions do not represent free and fair elections and are not consistent with international norms," State Department spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters.
But conservative ex-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was quick to say Iran had a better turnout than the United States, where a president who won only 25 per cent of the popular vote had entered the White House on the ruling of a court.
Under the constitution, the government does not have to resign after parliamentary elections. But the new assembly, which features many former deputies from the 1990s, may try to impeach Khatami's more liberal ministers, as it did in 1999.
Eight Die in Vote Result Disputes in South Iran
Sun February 22, 2004
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Eight people have died in clashes with police in two towns in southern Iran over disputed parliamentary election results, local officials said on Sunday.
Four died in the town of Firouzabad in the southern Fars province, in protests on Saturday when the governor's office declared an unexpectedly high turnout in a tight race between a reformist and an Islamic conservative candidate.
"People were calling for the votes to be recounted to stop any possibility of vote-rigging," a local official, who declined to be named, told Reuters.
Another four were killed in the southwestern Khuzestan province when police clashed with a group of people protesting about election results in the town of Izeh, the ISNA students news agency reported, citing an unnamed local official.
The protesters had tried to storm the governor's office and attacked government and judiciary buildings in the town, the official said.
In Firouzabad, a crowd of several hundred people grew angry after one protester was shot and wounded by police.
The protesters began damaging police cars and attacking government buildings and in subsequent clashes "unfortunately three civilians and one policeman were killed on Saturday morning," the local official said.
Islamic conservatives were on course for a big win over reformist allies of President Mohammad Khatami on Sunday in an election branded unfair by Washington due to the prior disqualification of more than 2,000 reformist candidates. http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=worldNews&storyID=4409224