First returns from Iran's April 8 election indicate that Islamic fundamentalists advocating state interventionism in the economy are likely to reinforce their control over the country's parliament. Western diplomats in Tehran say those results highlight a continuing shift in the balance of power inside Iran's revolutionary elite: The coalition of wealthy urban businessmen and landowning clerics that sponsored the 1979 revolution is increasingly being supplanted by a new generation of lay technocrats supported by the lower classes of the society.
Final results of the poll won't be known before a runoff scheduled for May 13.
It is still too early to see whether the elections will affect how Tehran conducts the war with Iraq. Officially, all candidates supported the continuation of the fighting until the downfall of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. But, in private conversations, Iranian officials conceded that candidates could roughly be divided in two groups:
Those convinced that Iran should defeat Iraq for good on the battlefield.
Those believing that a military victory over Iraq would be too costly in both human and financial terms and who, therefore, press their government to strive to convince the international community to withdraw its support to President Hussein.
Latest figures published by the Iranian Ministry of Interior also show a sharp drop in the number of voters in the city of Tehran. The turnout there was about 1.6 million, down 600,000 compared to a previous election in April 1984. Iranian officials say the lower turnout mainly results from the ``war of the cities.'' The attacks involving the two capitals have been raging since early March and have forced many residents of Tehran to flee to the countryside.
In the hours preceding the opening of the polling stations, the Iraqis fired a spate of ground-to-ground missiles at Tehran. Simultaneously Baghdad Radio, in its Iranian program, warned that missiles would ``rain'' on Tehran during the voting.
As it turned out, voting in the capital went on unhampered by a single Iraqi attack. A quick check of Tehran's well-off neighborhoods showed that streets and polling stations were almost deserted. But an Islamic Guidance Ministry official later guided correspondents to a series of polling stations close to the university, where the Friday mass prayer had just ended. There, long lines waited in front of the booths.
Conduct of the election appeared to be fair, but voters had to write the names of the candidates of their choice on the ballot. This meant illiterates needed the help of friends or officials at the polling station. Each voter would get a stamp on his identity card in order to prevent him from voting twice. Iranian officials also insisted on the fact that people who had fled Tehran were allowed to vote in the constituencies where they had sought refuge and that the turnout in provincial cities was much bigger than in Tehran.
Western diplomats interviewed in Tehran say each Iranian election since the 1979 revolution has been marked by a decrease in the number of voters.
This, they say, is the result of the absence of any real opposition candidates. Most leaders of lay and nationalist parties are either in jail or in exile. Left-wing groups have been disbanded.
Mehdi Bazargan, who leads the only legal opposition group - the Movement of Freedom of Iran - boycotted the elections on the ground that he was not allowed to organize his party nationwide.
Claude van England was one of a handful of Western journalists allowed to witness the election.