Monday, December 18, 2006

Shift in power in Iran. firebrand out.

Iranian Leader Loses Vote, Reformers Say

Filed at 10:36 a.m. ET

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran's biggest reformist party said on Monday President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had suffered a ``decisive defeat'' in nationwide elections last week due to his government's ``authoritarian and inefficient methods.''

The government's spokesman countered that by saying the government had no favored candidates in Friday's twin votes for local councils and a powerful clerical body known as the Assembly of Experts and was happy to work with the winners.

Political analysts said the elections, the first since Ahmadinejad's stunning 2005 presidential win, would have no immediate impact on policy in the Islamic state where Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the last word on all matters.

But a poor showing for allies of the anti-Western president could give a stronger voice to more moderate voices in decision-making in future.

Vote counting in the major battleground Tehran continued for a third day on Monday, prompting government critics to express fears the delay could indicate possible tampering.

The results that have been announced suggest that moderate conservative and reformist candidates had, on the whole, fared better than close allies of Ahmadinejad although no one group could claim outright victory.

``The initial results of elections throughout the country indicate that Mr Ahmadinejad's list has experienced a decisive defeat nationwide,'' the pro-reform Islamic Iran Participation Front said in a statement.

``These results were tantamount to a big 'no' to the government's authoritarian and inefficient methods,'' it said.


Government spokesman Gholamhossein Elham preferred to highlight the turnout of about 60 percent, well above levels for equivalent elections in recent years.

``The government does not work in the interest of any particular political group,'' he told a weekly news conference. ''It is not important for us who is the winner in the elections.''

Early vote tallies for the crucial Tehran City Council race gave Ahmadinejad supporters up to four of the 15 seats. Among those poised to be elected was a sister of the president.

The rest of the council seats were shared among moderate conservative backers of Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and reformists, including at least three former cabinet ministers.

Reformists said the Tehran results reflected those in other parts of the country. Some reformists leaders said they feared backers of Ahmadinejad and Qalibaf could form an alliance to squeeze out reformists from power in Tehran.

There were also disappointments for Ahmadinejad allies in the vote for the Assembly of Experts, an 86-member body which elects, supervises and can even dismiss the supreme leader.

In Tehran former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a staunch critic of the president who lost to Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential vote, easily topped the vote. Political analysts said it was a significant comeback for Iran's arch pragmatist powerbroker.

Firebrand cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, a vocal backer of Ahmadinejad, trailed in sixth place with almost half the votes of Rafsanjani but enough to retain his assembly seat. Several other clerics allied to the president and Mesbah-Yazdi failed to win seats.


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