From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/18/world/middleeast/19irancnd.html?hp&ex=1166504400&en=e968ae0e0d9ff6cc&ei=5094&partner=homepage
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Election Seen as Setback for Iran’s President
BY Nazila Fathi / December 18, 2006

TEHRAN, Dec. 18 – Partial returns from Friday’s Iranian elections suggested today that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had experienced a major setback barely over a year after his own election. The victory of a pragmatic politician, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, over a hard-line candidate associated with Mr. Ahmadinejad gave one strong indication that voters favored more moderate policies. Mr. Rafsanjani won almost twice as many votes as the hard-liner, Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, for a position in the 86-member Assembly of Experts. The Assembly has the power to replace the supreme religious leader.

Final results for the Assembly of Experts showed that more than 65 candidates close to Mr. Rafsanjani were elected. Mr. Rafsanjani lost out to Mr. Ahmadinejad in the 2005 election runoff for president. The voter turnout was over 60 percent – much higher than in previous years. Mr. Mesbah Yazdi, who is considered the spiritual mentor of President Ahmadinejad, won an assembly seat but with a low total. Few of his allies won. Although the results for other voting that day, for local city councils, have not been totaled up, it appeared that hard-line supporters of Mr. Ahmadinejad have failed to win the majority in most key cities.

Reformist politicians claimed their biggest victories in five cities — Kerman, Sari, Zanjan, Ahwaz and Bandar-Abbas. In those cities, no seat were won by hard-liners. But official figures are still awaited. The results in the capital city of Tehran have also not been announced but reformist politicians are already warning that hard-liners are trying to tamper with the votes to minimize their defeat. If the elections do indeed prove to be a setback to hard-liners, it would represent a symbolic rebuke to Mr. Ahmadinejad, who himself rose to prominence four years ago by faring well in Tehran city elections, in low turnout. After a three-day delay, the Iranian Interior Ministry announced partial results today, saying that only four reformists have been elected for 15-member council. The majority of seats were won by the supporters of Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf, the mayor of Tehran, who is a hard-liner but less so than Mr. Ahmadinejad. “I think the first message of people’s vote on Friday was that people still favor reforms,” a reformist politician, Mohammad Atrainfar, said. “And the second message was that populists’ appeals have failed,” he said, referring to Mr. Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric. A government spokesman, Gholamhossein Elham, tried to minimize the defeat of hard-liners at his weekly news conference and said the government had not favored the victory of any particular group.

In 2004, many top reformist candidates were barred from running for parliamentary office. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s harsh criticism of Israeli and tough stance in favor of Iran’s nuclear program have draw condemnation in the West, raising the prospect that the United Nations Security Council may impose sanctions on Tehran. “The elections have united reformers,” Mostafa Mirzaeian, a political analyst, told The Associated Press. “Results also show that a new coalition has developed between reformers and moderate conservatives at the expense of hard-line extremists who support Ahmadinejad.”