Iranian Vote Yields Foggy Results

Conservatives have won a majority of seats in the recent Iranian elections — but which conservatives are they? Incomplete and contradictory information from Iran's Interior Ministry makes the results — and the potential impact on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — unclear.

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In Iran there are still no final results from last Friday's parliamentary election. The government says all the votes are counted and conservatives will predominate in the parliament. Reformist candidates were largely disqualified. We know they have won some seats, but how many is still to be determined.

And as NPR's Mike Shuster reports from Tehran, there are more and more complaints about how the election was conducted.

MIKE SHUSTER: Results from Friday's balloting had been dribbling out over the past three days, and the government has repeatedly issued conflicting reports on the results. Iran's Interior Ministry now says principalists - that is conservatives who support the Islamic Republic - won 166 seats out of a total of 290. Reformists have secured 32 seats; independents, another couple of dozen. In the races for more than 60 seats, they will be a runoff soon because no candidates got more than 25 percent of the vote. This much could have been predicted says, Hermidas Bavand, a former Iranian diplomat and professor of international law.

Professor HERMIDAS BAVAND (International Law, Tehran Supreme National Defense University; Former Iranian Diplomat): Of course, it was not a kind of genuine free election that different political group to be able to take part in the process of election.

SHUSTER: The reformists were more disadvantaged with up to 1,700 of their candidates disqualified before the voting took place. So, although two key slates of reformist candidates did take part, the disqualifications left them with too few candidates to run in all of Iran's constituencies. In addition, they were systematically excluded from monitoring the counting of votes. Reformists were expected to fair better in cosmopolitan Tehran, but so far, of 30 seats reserved for Tehran, the principalists - allied with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - have taken 19, the rest will go to the second round. Reformists have won no seats in Tehran, a result they do not accept.

Ali Shams Ardekani, a prominent economist and businessman, says this kind of an election will only increase disillusionment with voting in Iran.

Dr. ALI SHAMS ARDEKANI (Economist; Businessman): To have a more entrenched democracy, the more people are excited to participate, the better it is. The result is better and is more fair. The results would - in my opinion also, the result will not be much different.

SHUSTER: Many reformists disagree with that. There is much talk here of how the government engineers the outcome of elections now, disqualifications help to limit who actually does run in many constituencies which allows the government to pick winners in the view of Saeed Laylaz, a well-known political analyst.

Mr. SAEED LAYLAZ (Political Analyst): There hasn't been a good competition inside the election. There has been rejecting of the reformists. We didn't have enough access to mass media of the - in the country. We believe that there are a lot of seats, which actually appointed, not elected.

SHUSTER: In addition to incomplete returns, the interior ministry has not announced which groups of conservatives or principalists have won which seats. This is important because not all conservatives are the same in Iran. There are those close to President Ahmadinejad and there are those who have been critical of his policies especially on the faltering Iranian economy. If the anti-Ahmadinejad conservatives had done well, Saeed Laylaz sees the possibility of a limited alliance of practical conservatives with the small a reformist faction to challenge the government's economic policies.

Mr. LAYLAZ: Mostly they will be united against Mr. Ahmadinejad in economy, and they will be united against reformists in politics.

SHUSTER: Hermidas Bavand is not sure yet whether this division among conservatives is real.

Prof. BAVAND: If it's going to be a genuine rift, I take it as a good omen. But if it's going to be a kind of very shallow rift, I don't think the new matchless could work out properly for solution of the Iranian problem.

SHUSTER: Whether or not the parliament - or matchless as it's known here - will see an alliance of pragmatic conservatives and reformers, Bavand believes the reformers must be tougher on their own in challenging government policies.

Prof. BAVAND: I do not think that a general political atmosphere is conducive enough for the minorities to stand up vis-a-vis the fundamentalist group.

SHUSTER: So it's not yet clear what kind of parliament Iran has created this time around, whether this parliamentary election has been good for Ahmadinejad and his prospects for a reelection next year is also unclear.

Mike Shuster, NPR News, Tehran.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

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