TEHRAN — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's populism and attacks on the West trumped criticism of his handling of the nation's financial crisis as results released Saturday indicated that the hard-line leader had won strong support in parliamentary elections.
Reformists opposed to the president had stood little chance in Friday's voting. Hundreds of their members, including high-profile candidates, had been removed from the ballot by the Guardian Council, a body of clerics and jurists that vets candidates for loyalty to the country's Islamic system. Despite this, estimates suggest that reformists could retain 40 of their 50 legislative seats and remain a minority voice.
Interior Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi said 71% of the 290 seats in parliament would go to conservative factions. He added that 60% of the country's 43 million voters turned out, a figure that ruling clerics described as a "glorious" defeat for the interests of the U.S. and other Western enemies.
Final results will be released Monday after the votes from Tehran and other cities are counted. Pourmohammadi said the figures would probably not change more than 2 or 3 percentage points.
The political gamesmanship now shifts to two factions within the conservative camp, one that supports Ahmadinejad and another that blames him for high inflation and unemployment rates. Analysts said the president's supporters appeared to have won more seats, a testament to his popular appeal in the provinces and his rhetoric against the West over Iran's nuclear program.
One of the conservatives opposed to him, former chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, was elected to parliament with more than 75% of the vote. It is uncertain, however, whether he can pull together a bloc to act as a balance to Ahmadinejad's hard-liners. Political allegiances in parliament are often difficult to gauge; members are known to alter their ideologies when they take office.
Analysts say pressure on Ahmadinejad could intensify if the economy worsens. His strategy of using oil revenue to fund building projects to patch over deeper economic problems has helped push the inflation rate to about 18%.
Shahabeddin Sadr, a member of the pro-Ahmadinejad United Front of Principalists, said, "Sixty percent of the votes cast in Tehran belong to the Principalists, and in the rest of the country it is obvious that Principalists are in the majority. But it does not mean we will not have constructive criticism against the government of President Ahmadinejad. We simply do not want to be destructive to his government."
Reformists spent Saturday assessing their marginalization and how to be a potent, though small, minority. The Guardian Council struck many of their leading candidates from the ballot before the elections, accusing them of violating the ideals of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Reformists said, however, that they were winning more seats than anticipated and might end up with more than 60.
"The very presence of the reformers in the election campaign is a victory for them," said Reza Kaviyani, a reformist analyst. "The [conspiracy] was to delete them from any competition. So, even five or six reformers in the 8th parliament can be good enough for the reformist struggle toward a further open society."
Fleishman is a Times staff writer, and Mostaghim is a special correspondent.