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Iran elections: Ahmadinejad reduced to lame duck

Forces loyal to conservative cleric Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have taken over 75 percent of the seats in parliamentary elections, leaving rival President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad weakened.

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But analysts said the combative Ahmadinejad - who is constitutionally barred from running for a third presidential term - would not readily bow to the ballot box rout of his supporters and may fight back.

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"Ahmadinejad's camp has not been demolished. We have to wait and see what happens after the new parliament convenes in June," said analyst Hamid Farahvashian.

"The vote showed that there is a deepening rift between the ruling elites. It might emerge in the coming weeks."

Ahmadinejad is likely to be summoned to an unprecedented hearing in the outgoing parliament by Friday to answer questions focusing on his rocky handling of the economy, while Khamenei kept ultimate control over foreign policy.

Inflation high under Ahmadinejad

Critics say Ahmadinejad has inflicted higher inflation on Iranians by slashing food and fuel subsidies to cut spending and purge waste, and replacing them with cash handouts of around $38 a month per person.

Parliament could impeach Ahmadinejad if his explanations are unconvincing, but Khamenei's green light would be needed.

Analysts said Ahmadinejad is likely to survive his term - but as a lame duck president.

"The establishment is under Western pressure and does not want to look divided," said analyst Babak Sadeghi. "Ahmadinejad will finish his term as a weak executive."

Under mounting Western pressure over its nuclear programme and concerns that Israel might attack, Iran's clerical elite needed a high election turnout to shore up their legitimacy damaged since Ahmadinejad's 2009 re-election, in which fraud allegations triggered eight months of anti-government protests.

Khamenei said a high turnout would be a message of defiance to "the arrogant powers bullying us," a reference to Western states and sanctions against Iran.

State officials said the turnout was over 64 percent, higher than the 57 percent in the 2008 parliamentary vote.

Opposition absent from vote

Absent from the vote were the two main opposition leaders. Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, who ran for president in 2009, have been under house arrest for more than a year.

Iran denies Western suspicions that it is enriching uranium with the ultimate goal of developing nuclear weapons, saying the program is for peaceful energy only.

But arch-adversary Israel has talked of war if diplomacy and sanctions do not bring about a peaceful outcome to the nuclear row. Iran will top the agenda when Israel's prime minister meets US President Barack Obama in Washington on Monday.

Obama has said military action was among the options to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons but has also argued against a pre-emptive Israeli strike.

Global oil prices have spiked to 10-month highs on tensions between the West and Iran, OPEC's second biggest crude producer.

* Additional reporting by Mitra Amiri, Hossein Jaseb and Ramin Mostafavi.

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