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Conservatives Win Solid Majority in Iran's Parliament, But Divisions are Evident

By Challiss McDonough, VOA, Cairo

According to partial results, conservatives have won most of the seats in Iran's parliamentary election. But the conservative bloc is divided, and hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could find himself facing more resistance to some of his policies from rivals within the conservative camp. VOA Correspondent Challiss McDonough has more from our Middle East bureau in Cairo.

With most of the results in, the Interior Ministry indicated that conservative factions will retain the roughly three quarters majority they held in the last parliament. But rivalries have emerged between two conservative factions.

The president's hardline allies will likely still hold the largest single bloc in the 290-seat Parliament, but a sizable number of seats was won by another conservative group, led by critics of the president.

Journalist Kassam Kasir oversees foreign political coverage for Al-Arab newspaper in Qatar, and has been paying close attention to the Iranian political scene.

Kasir calls the results "a message from the Iranian people to [President ] Ahmadinejad," showing disapproval of his policies, especially regarding the economy. He said the outcome is likely to affect next year's presidential election.

A number of Mr. Ahmadinejad's conservative rivals won seats in parliament, including Ali Larijani, who resigned as chief nuclear negotiator last year, after differing with the president over his approach to dealing with the West on the nuclear issue. It is possible that he or one of Mr. Ahmadinejad's other rivals could use their positions in Parliament as a springboard to run for president next year.

Meanwhile, spokesmen for reformist groups said they had won a slight increase in seats over the last parliament, even though most of their candidates were not allowed to run. Pre-election vetting by the cleric-led Guardian Council and the Interior Ministry disqualified hundreds of candidates, including the most prominent reformists.

The complicated electoral system makes it hard to say exactly how many seats have been won by each faction, since some candidates were backed by more than one group, and others were listed as independents, with their political affiliations still unclear.

A number of seats have yet to be determined, and a second round of voting will be held in races where no candidate won at least 25 percent.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry angrily denounced a European Union statement calling the election "neither fair nor free" because of the candidate disqualifications.

Slovenia, which holds the rotating EU presidency, on Sunday said Iranians were unable to choose from a full range of political views, and called the barring of reformist candidates "a clear violation of international norms."

The Iranian foreign ministry condemned the EU statement as "hasty" and "unacceptable."

The United States has called the election "cooked," meaning rigged.

The Interior Ministry said around 60 percent of registered voters went to the polls, more than the last election. Government officials called the turnout "glorious" and categorized it as a victory over Iran's critics.

... Payvand News - 03/18/08 ... --

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