Ahmadinejad Allies Win Largest Share of Votes, Says it Shows Defiance of West

Iranian leaders said Sunday their victory in parliamentary elections showed voters' defiance of the West after allies of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the largest share.

But a powerful bloc of Ahmadinejad's conservative opponents made a strong showing — a split that could mean frictions between the president and former supporters disillusioned by his fiery, populist rule and handling of the economy.

Vote counting was complete everywhere in the country except for the capital, Tehran, showing conservatives who support Iran's clerical leadership maintaining the hold they have had on parliament since 2004.

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Iran's Interior Ministry reported turnout in Friday's vote at around 60 percent, up somewhat from 51 percent in 2004. It fell short though of the near 80 percent that turned out in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when a full slate of reformist candidates was allowed to run and was swept into power.

The unelected cleric-led Guardian Council threw out most of the reform movements candidates when it disqualified some 1,700 of them for insufficient loyalty to Islam and Iran's 1979 revolution.

Washington said Iran's leadership had "cooked" the election by barring reformists. The European Union said the vote was "neither fair nor free" because the disqualifications prevented Iranians "from being able to choose freely amongst the full range of political views." It said the barring of reformers was a "clear violation of international norms."

Iran's leaders, however, depicted the increased participation as a show of support of the clerical-led system. Ahmadinejad said the participation "placed a sign of disgrace on the foreheads of our enemies," the state news agency IRNA reported Sunday.

Iran's Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who had backed pro-Ahmadinejad candidates in the race, thanked Iranians for their participation.

"Your epic and powerful presence overcame the enemy's tricks and turned the enemy's high-profile psychological war aimed at encouraging a low turnout into a vain bubble," he said, according to IRNA.

With 190 of parliament's 290 seats decided, 113 went to conservatives — around 70 to a list dominated by pro-Ahmadinejad hard-liners and the rest to a slate led by his conservative critics, according to individual results announced by state television and the official news agency IRNA. The numbers are not firm because some winners ran on both lists.

Reformists won 31 seats, according to the results. Another 39 winners were independents whose political leanings were not immediately known. Five other seats dedicated to Iran's Jewish, Zoroastrian and Christian minorities have been decided.

Reformist leaders said Sunday that at least 14 winning independents are pro-reform, bringing their bloc to 45 seats so far. If correct, that would be around the size of the reformist presence in the outgoing parliament.

Races for more than 70 seats will go to a run-off vote set for April or May.

The results for Tehran's 30 seats have not yet been announced. Ahmadinejad's allies were heading toward taking at least 14 of the capital's seats, according to partial results, IRNA reported. The remaining seats were likely to head to a second round vote, in which reformists were likely to pick up several seats.