Reformists and moderate conservatives were leading in parliamentary elections according to early results on Saturday, an indication that President Hassan Rouhani may face a more friendly house to pursue his domestic agenda.
Early returns from Friday’s polls show that none of the three competing political factions will win a majority in the 290-seat parliament. But reformists seeking greater democratic changes are heading towards their strongest presence since 2004 at the expense of hardliners.
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Officials have yet to release early results, but reports in the semi-official Fars and Mehr news agencies and a count conducted by The Associated Press news agency show that hardliners are the main losers of the vote.
Friday’s election for Iran’s parliament and the powerful clerical body known as the Assembly of Experts was the first since Iran’s landmark nuclear deal with world powers last year.
Reformists seeking greater democratic changes and moderates supporting Rouhani appear to be cashing in on the lifting of international sanctions the moderate president achieved under last summer’s historic agreement.
Nearly 55 million of Iran’s 80 million people were eligible to vote. Participation figures and other statistics were not immediately available, though Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli predicted late Thursday that there would be a turnout of 70 percent.
Polls were closed at midnight and officials immediately began counting the ballots afterwards. As more ballots were counted, reformists appeared to be on the path to expand their presence -from the fewer than 20 they currently hold to a majority with the moderate conservatives – and reduce the number of hardliners.
Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull, reporting from Tehran, said while reformists and moderates were “expected to hold sway” in the capital, no one expected a countrywide landslide. On Saturday, partial results emerging from about 50 small towns across Iran showed reformists and their moderate allies were leading the vote.
“The choices being made here broadly between conservatives and the moderate reformist bloc could well determine whether Iran moves towards greater tolerance, openness and much-needed economic reform, but in a system geared towards the ultimate power of religious conservatism, [where] old thinking and the status quo remain deeply entrenched,” Hull said.
Moderate voter Behrooz Broum told Al Jazeera that he “would like to have a better economy, a better life, with friendship all over the world”.
Yet, conservative support remained strong elsewhere. Zahra Ruzidar, a conservative voter, said she could not trust the United States. “They keep insulting us. We came forward with honesty and negotiated an agreement, yet they keep threatening us. We are not afraid of threats,” Ruzidar told Al Jazeera.
The hardline conservative camp is largely made up of loyalists of Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who, during his two terms in office, stoked tensions with the US and cracked down on internal dissidents.
In a bid to crowd them out, reformists have allied with moderate conservatives, many of whom split with the hardliners because of Ahmadinejad.
Reformists stormed to power with the 1997 election of President Mohammad Khatami, followed by the 2000 parliamentary elections that brought a reformist majority into parliament for the first time. The movement pressed for an easing of Islamic social restrictions, greater public voice in politics, freedom of expression and better ties with the international community.
But that hold was broken in the next election in 2004, when reformist candidates were largely barred from running.
Ahmadinejad’s election victory in 2005 sealed the movement’s downfall. Reformists were all but shut out of politics for nearly a decade until Rouhani was elected.
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