Ahmadinejad’s Rivals Lead Amid High Turnout

Iran commended the “epic” voter turnout in a parliamentary election that may strengthen the hand of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei against allies of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“The Iranian nation proved to the world that it’s pursuing its path steadfastly and disappointed the enemies that aimed to poison the climate of the elections,” Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar said today in comments broadcast live on state television.

Khamenei had called for a high turnout as a show of unity against external pressure and threats. The vote took place as the U.S. and European Union apply sanctions targeting Iran’s oil sales and central bank in a bid to halt what they say is Tehran’s drive to build an atomic bomb. Iran says its nuclear program is solely civilian.

Based on early returns, turnout was 64.2 percent nationwide and close to 48 percent in Tehran, Mohammad-Najjar said. About 60 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in legislative elections four years ago.

Early results showed the United Principlist Front leading, the state-run Press TV news channel reported. The group, which includes members of the parliament, has criticized Ahmadinejad for poor economic management and failing to show sufficient allegiance to Khamenei.

Ahmadinejad’s sister, Parvin, lost her race in their hometown of Garmsar, southeast of the capital, the state-run Mehr news agency reported. Parvin Ahmadinejad is a member of Tehran’s city council.

Conservatism

The election was Iran’s first contest since the disputed presidential race of 2009 that sparked mass protests. The opposition movement that challenged Ahmadinejad then was absent from this election, narrowing the range of candidates to those who favor strict adherence to the tenets of the country’s Islamic Republic.

Voters chose “between two brands of hardline conservatism -- a mainly religious strand personified by followers of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a more nationalist strand advocated by supporters of Ahmadinejad,” David Hartwell, Middle East analyst with IHS Global Insight, said in an e-mailed note.

The election probably won’t affect the country’s nuclear stance because Iran’s parliament doesn’t control foreign policy. It may give an indication of political trends before the presidential vote next year, when Ahmadinejad is not eligible to seek re-election.

Final results will be announced 48 to 72 hours after polling ended at 11 p.m. yesterday, Mohammad-Najjar said. About 48 million Iranians were eligible to cast ballots for more than 3,400 candidates cleared to compete by the Guardian Council, a body of jurists and clerics.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ladane Nasseri in Tehran at lnasseri@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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