TEHRAN (AFP) – Allies of hardline Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmmadinejad have suffered a stinging defeat in elections for Tehran’s city council, losing to moderate conservative and reformist forces.
Although final results have still to be published five days after the vote, returns on 80 percent of ballots Wednesday show that allies of moderate Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf are set to win a clear majority.
The Tehran count is the last result due from Friday’s nationwide elections for municipal councils and for the clerical Assembly of Experts in the first major test of popularity for Ahmadinejad since he swept to power in 2005.
Allies of Qalibaf, a technocratic moderate conservative, were set to win eight seats on the 15-member body, bolstered by the win of an independent loyal to the mayor. Reformers were set to gain four seats and Ahmadinejad allies two.
The candidates running in the top two places were the city council’s current head, Mehdi Chamran, and ex-Tehran police chief Morteza Talaie, both allies of Qalibaf.
Another feature was the success of high-profile sportsmen, with seats set to go to reformist Olympic taekwondo champion Hadi Saei and two former world wrestling champions. Ahmadinejad’s sister Parvine was running in ninth place.
Elsewhere, women picked up four seats on the nine-member councils in the central cities of Qazvin and Ardebil and three places in the desert city of Yazd.
The authorities have been keen to emphasise the 60 percent turnout, which easily topped that of the last elections held.
“The multitudes of people coming to the ballots showed Iranians were not hindered by the psychological war of enemies who used different means and instruments to dishearten the people,” said supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The Tehran city council results come after a cleric seen as Ahmadinejad’s spiritual mentor was trounced by centrist ex-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in elections for the powerful Assembly of Experts.
Rafsanjani, written off in some quarters as a spent force, polled in excess of half a million votes more than the second-placed cleric, and he left Ahmadinejad ally Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi trailing in sixth place.
The elections capped a difficult few days for Ahmadinejad. Tehran students disrupted a presidential speech last week by burning his picture and shouting “death to the dictator”.
With parliamentary elections in 2008 and presidential polls due a year later, the Tehran poll was seen as a bellwether for future national votes.
On a three-day tour of the western province of Kermanshah, Ahmadinejad has made no reference to the elections, instead concentrating on local issues and Iran’s nuclear programme.
One of the key reasons for the weak showing by Ahmadinejad’s allies was the split with moderate conservatives, although officials and the hardline press have celebrated the results as a victory for “conservatives” in general.
“Thanks to God, the electorate is still putting its confidence in the conservatives,” said Interior Minister Mostafa Pour Mohammadi.
However conservative lawmaker Emad Afroug said voters had said “no to illusion to narcissism … to populism and to Machiavellianism.”