Apr 30, 2016 1:42 PM

Iran's moderates get most parliament seats after runoff

The Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Iranian moderates and reformists who support last year's landmark nuclear deal have won the largest number of seats in parliament following runoff elections, marking a shift away from hard-liners and boosting moderate President Hassan Rouhani as he looks to secure a second term in office.

The results released Saturday on state television failed to give the moderate-reformist camp an outright majority in the 290-seat chamber, however. They will now likely try to attract support from dozens of independent lawmakers whose political leanings vary depending on the issue at hand.

There were 68 seats being contested in runoff elections held Friday in 55 constituencies around the country. Residents in the capital, Tehran, did not take part in the second-round balloting because moderates won all 30 seats there outright in first-round voting in February.

The reformist and moderate list claimed 37 seats in Friday's vote, giving them a total of 143 seats in the assembly just two seats shy of 50 percent. They are followed by hard-liners, with 86 seats, and independents, with 61. Twenty-two hard-liners and nine independents won seats in the runoff.

Mohammad Reza Aref, head of the moderate-reformist bloc, welcomed the victory, saying "our priority is engagement with other factions rather than confrontation," the semi-official ISNA news agency reported.

Tehran-based political analyst Saeed Leilaz called the results a "decisive victory" for the moderate-reformist bloc.

"It is now clear that they are more popular than hard-liners, even in the remote areas," where their support was seen as lower than in major cities, Leilaz said.

A total of 17 women won seats in both rounds of elections, the largest number ever. At least 11 of them are moderate-reformist.

Deputy Interior Minister Hossein Ali Amiri told state TV that turnout in the runoff elections was 59 percent, compared with 62 percent in the original February elections. Some 17 million Iranians were eligible to vote.

Iran does not allow international election observers to monitor its polls, which are organized by the Interior Ministry.

Friday's vote was marred by rare violence in the southern town of Mamasani, home to several armed tribes. Four people were wounded in a shooting that followed an argument between supporters of rival candidates running there.

Last year's nuclear deal between Iran and world powers called for curbs designed to prevent Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons in exchange for the easing of painful economic sanctions. Although nuclear-related sanctions have been lifted, other international sanctions remain in place and the deal's promised economic benefits are only starting to be felt.

Rouhani could enjoy a boost in popularity heading into next year's presidential elections if the new parliament is seen as delivering on his priorities. The outgoing parliament, dominated by conservatives and hard-liners wary of Rouhani's outreach to the West, showed little desire to work with him and frequently summoned ministers to explain alleged transgressions after Rouhani came to power in 2013.

His supporters' failure to achieve an outright majority could complicate the moderate-reformist bloc's efforts to name a parliament speaker. The speaker plays a significant role in getting bills passed or rejected and also serves on several important decision-making bodies, including the Supreme National Security Council.

Leilaz, the political analyst, predicted that many independents will nonetheless support Rouhani's administration in practice.

"Rouhani has gained a momentum to remove many barriers and this will help to secure his second term," he said.

The structure of Iran's political system limits how much lawmakers will be able to accomplish even if the moderate-reformist camp manages to attract enough independents to vote with it. Major dramatic shifts in Iranian domestic or foreign policy are unlikely.

While parliament has some oversight over public spending and the power to question government ministers, legislation it passes is subject to review by the Guardian Council, a constitutional watchdog. Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, remains the top decision-maker in the country, and would have to support any major policy changes.

The assembly will convene next month after the Guardian Council confirms the results. The council vets candidates deeming many unfit to run and supervises elections.

It has already ratified results of 221 out of 222 winners of the first round, though the political fate of female reformist candidate Minoo Khaleghi, in the central Iranian city of Isfahan, remains uncertain. The Interior Ministry has said it is discussing her case with the council.


Schreck reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.


Follow Nasser Karimi on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ncarrimi

Follow Adam Schreck on Twitter at www.twitter.com/adamschreck


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