Ahmadinejad rivals leading in parliament vote

Edge for Ahmadinejad’s rivals in polls

Tehran: Conservative rivals of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were leading in the race for parliament, according to early election results on Saturday, an indication the Iranian president may face a more hostile house in the remaining 18 months of his second term in office.

The strong showing by loyalists of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in yesterday's parliamentary elections also reflected staunch support for Iran's theocracy and its firm stance in the nuclear standoff with the West.

Early returns today in the capital Tehran showed Khamenei loyalists have pulled ahead. Partial results from provincial towns also show conservative Ahmadinejad rivals were elected in many constituencies.

State media said the turnout was estimated at over 67 per cent from among 48 million Iranians eligible to vote.

The conservatives' lead had been expected as the balloting for the 290-seat parliament had boiled down to a popularity contest between two conservative camps those opposing Ahmadinejad and those backing the president.

The elections were the first major vote since Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election in June 2009 and the mass protests and crackdowns that followed.

With the opposition crushed in the brutal crackdowns over the past three years and major reformist factions absent from polling stations, the outcome of the elections is unlikely to change Iran's course over major policies including its refusal to halt uranium enrichment that the West fears is geared toward weapons making, military and oil policies.

A win by his rivals will weaken Ahmadinejad's camp ahead of the 2013 presidential race.

In another embarrassment, Parvin Ahmadinejad, a younger sister of the president, was defeated by a conservative rival in their hometown of Garmsar. Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, whose daughter is married to Khamenei's son, was leading in Tehran, followed by other Khamenei loyalists.

Another Ahmadinejad opponent and current parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, won a seat from the city of Qom, a religious centre.

Out of 189 winners that emerged by noon, at least 97 were conservative Ahmadinejad opponents. Also elected were six liberal-leaning candidates opposed to Ahmadinejad. The remaining 86 seats were split between Ahmadinejad supporters and centrists.

 Authorities said 15 seats will have to be decided in runoffs.

More than 3,440 parliamentary hopefuls -- all vetted by Iran's ruling Islamic system and none with links to the opposition Green Movement that led protests after Ahmadinejad's hotly disputed re-election -- Iran in the elections.

The state media said the balloting was a snub at Iran's enemies who had allegedly hoped for a low turnout that would show divisions and a weakened Islamic theocracy, making it easier for the West to pressure Iran over its nuclear programme.

"International media were surprised by the high turnout," state TV proclaimed today.

"It was a slap in the face of the US" The front-page headline in the hard-line daily Kayhan Saturday said the enemy was "checkmated."