Middle East


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

Most of the results from Friday's local elections in Iran are in, and it looks like a significant defeat for Iran's hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Voters rejected most of Ahmadinejad's candidates for city councils across Iran, especially in the capital Tehran. And reformists, who suffered serious defeats in recent elections, mounted something of a comeback.

NPR's Mike Shuster joins us now from Tehran. And Mike, tell us more about the city and town council elections.

MIKE SHUSTER: Well, I think the first point to make, Renee, is that the conservatives are still in power in Iran, but these are conservative factions that don't support the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and who have been critical of his performance in the presidency. The second strongest in the Tehran city council were reformers. They beat Ahmadinejad's slate, and that represents something of a comeback for them in Tehran. The Tehran City Council is a very important and powerful body.

I must say, though, at the outset that not all the candidates that wanted to run in these elections were permitted. There is a body called the Guardian Council, it's made up mostly of clerics, and they decide who can run and who cannot. And they disqualify a lot of candidates, and a lot of candidates were disqualified, especially among the reformers.

MONTAGNE: Well as we said, these are local elections. Are they seen as a test of Ahmadinejad and political balance there similarly to the way American local elections can be seen that way?

SHUSTER: In some respects, yes. Ahmadinejad has campaigned widely in Iran for his presidency, for his politics and for his slates of candidates. He's tried to strengthen his political hold on the nation, but at the same time there are many domestic problems in Iran. His campaigns about attacking Israel, attacking the Holocaust and the United States have caused a good deal of resentment among a lot of voters in Iran because they want him to either fulfill especially his promises on the economy or fix the economy, which they see as quite broken. And so because of the domestic problems in Iran, it probably eroded much of the local support for him across the country.

MONTAGNE: And what about the Assembly of Experts, the clerical body that has the power to select or remove Iran's supreme leader? There was some fear that ultra-conservative clerics would seize control of that. Did that happen?

SHUSTER: No, it didn't happen. It looks like that faction was in fact quite weakened. That faction opposes any of the democratic or quasi-democratic practices in Iran, like elections. So that was weakened. Former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani made a comeback. He got the most votes. And you may remember that he ran against Ahmadinejad last year and was defeated by Ahmadinejad in the presidential elections. So this represents something of a comeback for Rafsanjani.

MONTAGNE: And how important was the fact that it was a 60 percent turnout, a pretty good turnout?

SHUSTER: Quite important, despite the fact that many candidates were disqualified by the Guardian Council. This indicates that Iranian voters did see distinctions in the factions and candidates were left. It was significant that the reformers didn't fragment, that they formed a coalition of a single slate in many places and got a lot of votes as a result of that. And probably overall it represents the fact that Iranians prefer not to give one faction all the power in their government. They weren't happy with Ahmadinejad's performance and they wanted to express that.

MONTAGNE: Mike, thanks very much. NPR's Mike Shuster speaking from Tehran.

SHUSTER: You're welcome, Renee.

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