TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s conservative religious hard-liners are set to gain control of parliament, based on early election results.
The hard-liners are running virtually unopposed after the hard-line Guardian Council disqualified thousands of pro-reform candidates, sparking the resignations of many others.
There were conflicting reports about the turnout in Friday’s parliamentary election. Iran’s state-controlled media reported a high turnout of the 46 million eligible voters despite a call for a boycott by reformists.
But an anonymous Interior Ministry official said that with votes counted from more than half of Iran’s 207 districts, the turnout was 43 percent, The Associated Press reported. Turnout in in the last parliament elections in 2000 was 67 percent.
CNN’s Kasra Naji said that a high turnout would be a boost for hardliners because it would lend credibility to the election, which has been criticized by reformists as neither free nor fair.
A bloc of known hardliners and others opposing reformers took more than 100 seats in early results, compared with about 30 seats for liberals, AP said. Final results are expected later Saturday.
Conservatives now seem set to exceed the 146 seats needed for a majority in the 290-seat chamber. If they do it will be one of the biggest turn-arounds in Iranian politics since reformists promising radical change were swept into office seven years ago.
The election contrasted markedly with the one four years ago. Then, walls were plastered with pictures and campaign posters as the parliamentary elections of 2000 captivated a country that believed it was cementing a solid agenda of reform. Reformist candidates swept to power.
This time the walls were bare. Observers also said hopes embodied by President Mohammed Khatami’s 1997 landslide win failed to materialize and his efforts to free up the country’s restrictive political and social agenda were rebuffed by hard-line conservative clergymen, who retained the real power.
Last month, the Guardian Council — which holds a blanket political veto — sparked Iran’s most serious political crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution by barring 4,000 reformist parliamentary candidates, including the president’s own brother and 80 present members of Parliament.
The reformists accused the hard-liners of staging a parliamentary coup, and criticized the country’s supreme leader for allowing the elections to go ahead despite the widespread belief that they would be unfair.
Some analysts and intellectuals have started to openly complain that Iran is becoming a religious dictatorship, little different from the monarchy deposed 25 years ago.
Iranian reformist President Mohammad Khatami casts his vote.
Many are openly criticizing Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and are disillusioned with his failures, calling on him to act on his frequent promises to resign.
However, CNN’s Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour said it was notable that these criticisms are being voiced in public and certain social restrictions, such as on women’s clothing, have been relaxed in recent years.
Still, these small but hard-won liberties are now under threat. One group of hard-liners running in Friday’s election, the Coalition of Developers of Islamic Iran, said a ban on the use of satellite television, popular in Iran, must be enforced to guard against corruption of Islamic values and national security.
Amanpour added that conservatives, looking to regain full political control, are now reported to be positioning a cleric, Hassan Rowhani, to win presidential elections scheduled for next year.
Rowhani was Iran’s pointman for crucial nuclear negotiations with the West last autumn.
The resulting agreement for intrusive inspections was widely hailed, but even that may develop into a new crisis after international inspectors discovered uranium enrichment centrifuge parts that are much more sophisticated than the type Tehran has admitted to having.