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Iran election: hard-liners hold on, despite high inflation

Conservatives win 70 percent of parliament. But reformers gain, too.

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"Why should we be surprised?" says Ahmad Tavakoli, the influential head of the Parliamentary Research Center, a conservative candidate who received the third-highest vote count in Tehran. "We have had a great victory of conservatives on our nuclear policy.... People have bad memories of the political battling of the reform period."

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"People still believe that not enough time has been given to Ahmadinejad to follow his economic policies – that's why they voted for his supporters," says Mr. Tavakoli.

Rana Sheidaiee, a conservative student whose family all backed the hard-line candidate lists, says that "If the parliament and president are the same [party], the country will progress. When they are different, energy is wasted on internal fighting."

But questions have been raised about the integrity of the vote. Official observers from reformist groups were reportedly made to leave some polling stations as counting began. Journalists were told to leave the ministry of interior – which ran the election – on polling night.

"This was not a real election, it was completely engineered," said one reformist voter after seeing the initial results. "This is fixed and that's sad. Once people start giving up on elections, that is the end."

Election turnout, officially given at 60 percent, was considered strong. The regime had called for voters to turn out in large numbers in response to US criticism of the democratic process as "cooked."

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei – who made clear his support of Ahmadinejad before the vote – said the "epic turnout defeated the enemies' craft and cunning and turned their psychological warfare ... into an empty bubble."

Some in the reformist camp, which wants to ease social and political restrictions, say they see no point in lending legitimacy to a regime they have no chance of changing. But reformist leaders discouraged a boycott.

"Competition among reformists will be outside the parliament, while competition between the principlists will happen inside parliament," says Amir Mohebian, political editor of the conservative Resalat newspaper. The president could face greater opposition from moderate conservatives, "but if most in parliament are for Ahmadinejad, he has good potential ... and will attack anyone who criticizes him."

As the 2009 presidential election nears, jockeying will increase – especially among the number of conservative former contenders who took part in the 2005 race. "Most of them think they are presidents-in-waiting, which makes it very difficult to form a coalition," says Mr. Mohebian. "Ideologically, Ahmadinejad can't accept a coalition with them because he thinks they are liberals."