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High turnout in Iran elections could end 'paranoia' of leaders

While full results of Friday's Iran elections have yet to be released, the regime has trumpeted an official turnout of 64 percent as a public vote of confidence after the tumultuous 2009 election.

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For months, the regime called for a high turnout in Friday's vote, equating it to proof of legitimacy and a way of defeating Iran's enemies – and even as a shield from attack by the US or Israel over Iran's nuclear program.

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But despite the certitude of official statements about strategic "victory," the results of the tactical battles waged at 47,000 polling stations is less clear.

Only five candidates in Tehran appear to have got past the 25 percent threshold to win one of the capital's 30 seats in the first round, according to Iranian news reports. Some further indicate that fully one-third of named winners so far are independents – and so it is unclear if they will support or challenge Mr. Ahmadinejad in coming clashes in parliament.

Among the losers was Parvin Ahmadinejad, a sister of the president who lost in their hometown of Garmsar, which added weight to reports that loyal supporters of the president – whose aides have been charged with leading a "deviant current" – were trounced.

Fuzzy math

Questions remain about exactly how many of Iran's 48 million voters turned out – with officials changing that precise figure three times since Friday.

In Tehran, where opposition and reformist support has been strongest, witnesses noted that many polling stations were empty. And there was also confusion about how the 8.8 million eligible voters in Tehran and Alborz Province in 2008, had somehow officially dropped by some 2.6 million.

One Iranian joke doing the rounds on Twitter today encapsulated the doubt: "80 percent of the people are sitting at home watching 70 percent of the population vote on TV."

A photograph of one spoiled Iranian ballot appeared on Facebook, scrawled across with the words in Persian: "Death to this rotten regime that forces me to vote for a stamp in my ID card!"

Still, officials crowed about a record-breaking turnout for a parliamentary vote, which in past elections in 2004 and 2008 barely topped 50 percent.

"For people who doubted the legitimacy of the election process, they have not been able to do anything to convince them that this is a legitimate process,” says Farhi, contacted in Honolulu.

Ahmadinejad's power likely to be curbed

A key question is how the results will affect the power struggle between rival conservative factions of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad.

Though Khamenei gave unequivocal support to Ahmadinejad in 2009, that calculation has changed dramatically since Ahmadinejad’s reelection sparked the worst streets protests in three decades. Now it appears that the fiery president’s power will be curbed further.

“While the Islamic Republic’s system is far too complex to reduce it to the plaything of the Supreme Leader, ‘stability’ – if not legitimacy – lay in an arrangement in which he and his circle could be assured that they would not face trouble from a president, parliament, or judiciary,” notes an analysis about the election result by Scott Lucas on the EAWorldview website.

The scale of that adjustment has yet to be seen, and may not be clear until deputies actually take their seats.

“It is still not clear if Mr. Ahmadinejad has been hit hard or not,” conservative Iranian analyst Amir Mohebian told the Financial Times in Tehran.

Ahmadinejad "is still the president of Iran, so you have to pay attention" to the policies he will pursue, says Farhi. "But in terms of him trying to create a legacy, an organizational backbone that would enhance the position of people like him in the future, that has not happened."

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