Iran's Hard-Liners, Reformists Claim Wins

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Islamic hard-liners and reformists both claimed victory in Iran's elections Saturday, with returns showing conservatives ahead in the race for parliament but a reformist boycott limiting voter turnout.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the winner of the election was the Iranian nation. He was upbeat about voter turnout, even though it marked a drop from previous elections.

"The loser of this election is the United States, Zionism and enemies of the Iranian nation," he told state media.

A reformist who called for a boycott, Ali Shakourirad, pointed to a voter turnout of less than 30 percent in the capital, Tehran, calling the poll "a big defeat for conservatives."

Official partial returns also suggested the boycott had an impact elsewhere in the country, with voter turnout some 15 percent lower than in elections four years ago.

That trend, if it holds, would mark a significant moral victory for liberals who urged a boycott after hard-line clerics barred some 2,400 reformist from running for the 290-seat parliament.

Conservatives hoped people would ignore the boycott, showing the strength of the Islamic state 25 years after the revolution that ousted the secular, pro-Western shah. Reformists hoped low turnout would strengthen their drive for openness and accountability.

Reformists have complained that the vote was rigged, and the United States also criticized the disqualifications of candidates including the biggest names in liberal politics. Among them was Mohammad Reza Khatami, the brother of Iran's reformist president and deputy speaker of the outgoing parliament.

In the 2000 elections, hard-liners lost control of the parliament for the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. But when the next legislature convenes in June, they should have a comfortable majority.

Results for nearly 60 percent of the legislature gave hard-liners more than 110 seats - 36 short of the majority they were widely expected to get, the Interior Ministry said.

In Tehran, hard-liners won about 25 of the 30 seats declared so far, according to results broadcast on television.

With the ballot weighted with conservatives, coupled with the reformist boycott, Islamic hard-liners were likely to win from the start. Voter turnout was the real drama in Saturday's race.

Voter turnout was 43.29 percent, the Interior Ministry said, with about half of Iran's 207 districts counted. That would mark a big drop from the 67.2 percent in the last parliament elections in 2000.

Government officials tried to put the turnout in the best light.

"Those who were overly influenced by the political situation failed to predict the people's enthusiastic participation," Information Minister Ali Yunesi told state-run television.

"The people's blessed and magnificent participation in yesterday's elections foiled plots and guaranteed the country's greatness."

Even before the vote, Rajab Ali Mazrouli, a leading member of the pro-reform Islamic Participation Front, had predicted the low turnout but conceded that hard-liners would probably take control of parliament.

"Most of the winners this time are conservatives," he said. "It was a race without competition."

A victory for conservatives also consolidate hard-line control at a sensitive time in the Middle East. In Iraq, Shiite Muslims are pressing for early elections and look to predominantly Shiite Iran for backing. The United States and its allies, meanwhile, are questioning Iran's denials about seeking nuclear arms technology.

More than 46 million people ages 15 and over were eligible to vote. Voting was extended for four hours in an attempt to get every last ballot.

State television and radio broadcast a nonstop series of reports and appeals aimed at stirring voters. Senior Islamic clerics described voting as a religious duty.