Loyalists of ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's clerical leader have won over 75 percent of seats in parliamentary elections, thereby severely reducing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's power for the rest of the 18 months that he still will be in office.
With 90 percent of ballot boxes counted, Khamenei supporters were expected to occupy more than three-quarters of the 290 seats in the Majles (parliament). The outcome of Friday's vote will give Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's camp also a significant edge in the 2013 presidential election.
Last Friday's elections were merely a contest between supporters of ayatollah Khamenei and president Ahmadinejad as main opposition leaders Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, who ran for president in 2009, have been under house arrest for more than a year and many other opposition figures are in prison. Final election returns are expected by Monday. State officials said the turnout was over 64 percent, higher than the 57 percent in the 2008 parliamentary vote.
Pro-Khamenei candidates won in Theran, the Shi'ite Muslim holy cities of Qom and Mashhad and were leading in other major provincial cities like Isfahan and Tabriz, where over 90 percent of voters backed Ahmadinejad in the 2009 parliamentary poll. Even in rural areas that have been strongholds of Ahmadinejad's and his populist brand of non-clerical nationalism, Khamenei loyalists appeared to have swept around 70 percent of the seats. Independents and women candidates fared relatively well in many provincial towns, where they campaigned on the immediate concerns - generally economic -- of their constituents.
Ahmadinejad is likely to be summoned to an unprecedented hearing in the outgoing parliament by Friday to answer questions about his handling of the economy and foreign policy. Critics say he has inflicted higher inflation on Iranians by slashing food and fuel subsidies and replacing them with cash handouts of about $38 a month per person. Iran's economy is also suffering badly from Western sanctions
Juan Cole remarks on his blog that, although Western reporters keep saying that the election results will have no bearing on the issue of Iran seeking a nuclear bomb or not, they had better pay some attention to recent (and not so recent) remarks by ayatollah Khamenei on the issue. Khamenei told an audience of nuclear scientists and eployees of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran on 22 February that:
“The Iranian nation has never pursued and will never pursue nuclear weapons.. There is no doubt that the decision makers in the countries opposing us know well that Iran is not after nuclear weapons because the Islamic Republic, logically, religiously and theoretically, considers the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin and believes the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous.”
Cole found some more remarks of Khamenei's on the same subject and in the same sense. It's an interesting question why these are never quoted in Western media. Because it is thought that he is lying? One could as well think that that the pope is lying when he is talking about birth control, Cole says, after all Khamenei's integrity is at stake.
I think Cole is right.