- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 27, 2008

TEHRAN (AP) — Conservatives consolidated their control of Iran’s legislature in runoff elections but moderates within the bloc opposed to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad emerged as a stronger force, according to final results released yesterday.

The conservative bloc is divided between supporters of the hard-line president and opponents critical of his handling of the economy and the nuclear standoff with the West.

After the country’s clerical leadership barred most reformist candidates from the elections, the conservatives clinched a majority of 170 of the 290 parliament seats with their gain of at least 38 spots in the runoffs from the 132 they won in the first round in March, according to results released by the Interior Ministry.

Within the conservative bloc, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s supporters added 27 seats to the 90 they won previously, while his moderate opponents in the bloc gained 11 on top of 42 from the first round.

The results indicate Mr. Ahmadinejad will be more vulnerable when he stands for re-election next year. With moderate conservatives emerging stronger in parliament and Mr. Ahmadinejad’s failure to meet his election promise to improve the economy, the moderates are in a better position to challenge the president.

Mr. Ahmadinejad is also being challenged by some of the same conservatives who paved the way for his presidency. They say he has concentrated too much on fiery, anti-U.S. rhetoric and not enough on the economy.

Reformists, who favor greater democracy, closer ties with the West, and reducing clerical powers in Iran, made a respectable showing even after most of their candidates were barred from running.

They added at least 15 seats to the 31 they won in the first round. They gained six seats over the 40 they have in the outgoing parliament.

The cleric-run Guardian Council, which is not an elected body, disqualified some 1,700 candidates, most of them reformists who were accused of insufficient loyalty to Islam and the 1979 revolution.

Independents picked up 32 seats on top of 39 they won in the first round. Results for three seats were annulled by the Interior Ministry for unspecified reasons.

In all, 82 seats were decided in the runoffs. The Interior Ministry said the conservative camp now controls around 200 seats, attributing some of the seats won by independents to conservatives.

The Interior Ministry said turnout for the runoffs was 26 percent. Turnout in runoff elections are usually low. The turnout in the first round in March was 60 percent.

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