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Ahmadinejad Allies Trail as Officials Laud Iran Turnout

Ahmadinejad Opponents Lead in Iran Vote, Boosting Khamenei
An electoral banner with a portrait of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is seen south of Tehran. Photographer: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

Opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were leading in Iran’s parliamentary election, which may strengthen the position of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Ballot counting ended and 225 candidates have secured places in the 290-seat assembly, Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar said today, without identifying the winners. Candidates in 33 constituencies will have to take part in April run-offs required where no candidate gains 25 percent of votes, he said. Turnout was 64 percent, an 11 percent increase from elections four years ago, Mohammad-Najjar said.

Khamenei had called for Iranians to turn out in the March 2 elections as a show of unity amid increased economic pressure on Iran and threats of military strikes. The supreme leader, who controls foreign and nuclear policy, has frequently clashed with Ahmadinejad since backing the president against protesters who charged that his 2009 re-election was rigged.

Khamenei’s “position has no doubt been drastically strengthened,” said Amir Mohebian, head of the Tehran-based Arya Strategic Studies Center in Tehran. The new parliament won’t bring dramatic changes in Iran’s foreign policy, he said.

Candidates of the United Principalist Front and the Stability Front have together secured about three quarters of the seats, state-run Press TV said yesterday, without giving details. The former group has attacked Ahmadinejad for poor economic management and failing to show sufficient allegiance to Khamenei, 72.

‘Current of Deviation’

The Stability Front has mainly focused criticism on Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, a close aide and relative of the president, whom they accuse of being the source of a “current of deviation,” according to Mohebian. The group says Ahmadinejad’s allies are inclined to celebrate an Iranian identity instead of an Islamic one, are too lenient over women’s Islamic attire and pose a challenge to the supreme leader’s authority.

The vote took place as the U.S. and European Union target Iranian oil sales and its central bank with sanctions, saying they are needed to stop Iran from developing the capacity to make nuclear weapons.

The balloting is the first since the disputed 2009 presidential election that sparked mass protests. Members of the opposition movement that challenged Ahmadinejad at that time aren’t contesting this election, narrowing the range of candidates to those who favor strict adherence to the tenets of the Islamic republic.

Political Factions

While Khamenei backed the president in 2009, ensuring him a second term, the two have since sparred over political matters including Ahmadinejad’s appointments and choice of aides. In May last year, the president stayed away from work for a week after Khamenei overruled him by canceling the resignation of Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi.

Iran doesn’t have established political parties. Candidates run without presenting programs, as part of the various factions or as independents. In the case of some lawmakers, “only when there’s a debate in parliament will it become clear which side they swing toward,” Mohebian said.

The more than 3,400 candidates had to be screened by the Guardian Council, a body of jurists and clerics that rules on their suitability. Those denied permission to run in the election include 30 current members of parliament, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, a spokesman for the body, said last week, without saying why they were disqualified.

Presidential Summons

Five candidates won seats in Tehran and the fate of the remaining 25 will be decided in the run-offs, Mohhamad-Nahhar said. Among candidates leading in Tehran were former Oil Minister Masoud Mir Kazemi, who was dismissed by Ahmadinejad last year, and Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, a former parliamentary speaker and adviser to Khamenei, according to the latest list for Tehran, published on the Interior Ministry’s website yesterday.

Another politician seeking one of the capital’s 30 seats is Ali Motahari, who had spearheaded a petition to summon the president to parliament to be questioned over alleged illegal actions and mismanagement, Mehr said. The unprecedented initiative would act as a deterrent for future leaders, Motahari said in an interview published today in the Tehran-based Mardom Salari newspaper.

Parliament, which met today after a three-week break for election campaigning, may push ahead with the move to summon the president, Mohebian said. Ahmadinejad isn’t eligible to stand for re-election next year.

Ahmadinejad’s sister, Parvin, lost her race in their hometown of Garmsar, southeast of the capital, according to Mehr.

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