Rafsanjani gains in Iran poll

Centrist cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani appeared to have sprung a surprise by reaping by far the most votes and beating a hardline rival in the election for the Assembly of Experts, the body that chooses the supreme leader.

In the keenly watched race for Teheran city council, reformists were on course to take a handful of seats and end total conservative domination of the body since the last local vote in February 2003.

However the authorities were keen to emphasise an unexpectedly high turnout which appeared to have topped 60 per cent for both votes — far higher than in similar elections in the past.

“The people have won. The enemies thought they had found a point of weakness but the Iranian people have shown their intelligence and grandeur to the entire world,” Mr Ahmadinejad declared.

But the results themselves were less palatable for Mr Ahmadinejad’s political allies, with the man seen as his spiritual mentor, Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, trailing behind Mr Rafsanjani in the Assembly of Experts vote.

Although both men appear certain to have reaped enough votes to represent Teheran province on the assembly for the next eight years, the results are a victory of vital symbolic importance for Mr Rafsanjani.

Partial results announced by election officials showed Mr Rafsanjani in first place with 1.3 million votes, almost half a million more than the second-placed cleric, Ayatollah Ali Meshkini, the current head of the assembly.

The figures showed Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi trailing in sixth place with about 700,000 votes, and reports also said allies of Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi had failed to win seats in Iran’s second city of Mashhad.

The results represent a significant reversal of fortune for Mr Rafsanjani, a 71-year-old former president, after his humiliating election defeat to Mr Ahmadinejad last year.

His popularity appears to have been helped by a growing alliance with reformists, a fact symbolised by pictures of Mr Rafsanjani voting side-by-side with liberal ex-president Mohammad Khatami widely published in the press.

“The results are a clear defeat for the allies of Ahmadinejad,” said the main Participation Front reformist party. “Voters said a resounding ‘no’ to the incompetence and authoritarian methods of the government.”

The picture emerging from the local elections was mixed, but it appeared that close allies of Mr Ahmadinejad would not dominate city councils over the next four years.

In Isfahan, Iran’s third city, reformists won two seats on the city council, with Mr Ahmadinejad loyalists and moderate conservatives winning five seats apiece, the Mehr news agency reported.

Although results for Teheran city council are not expected until well into next week, unofficial reports indicated the body would be shared between a mixture of reformists, Mr Ahmadinejad allies and technocratic conservatives.

The Fars news agency said the strongest performance had been by the technocrats close to Teheran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, a former police chief who has been happy to hand out posts to reformers as well.

Mr Qalibaf supporters were in line to win nine seats, Mr Ahmadinejad’s allies three and reformists two, with a wrestler running as an independent winning the last spot, it said.

It remained to be seen if Mr Ahmadinejad’s sister Parvin would be successful in her bid to win a seat on the body.

Elsewhere, women put in an impressive show, with 25-year-old reformist Fatemeh Houshmand winning the largest number of votes in the southern city of Shiraz — a feat repeated by female candidates in four other cities.

The expected lateness of final results for Teheran city council was lambasted by the reformist parties.

“This unprecedented situation makes people worry about the counting mechanism of their votes and it also creates doubt among candidates,” the ISNA agency quoted Hassan Beyadi, a member of the reformist coalition, as saying.

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