TEHRAN, Iran -- President Hashemi Rafsanjani is emerging from Iran's parliamentary elections with both a strong mandate to rebuild the country and the toughest challenge of his political career.
If the final outcome of the elections in fact refects what appears to be an overwhelming victory for his followers, Mr. Rafsanjani will be hard-pressed to come up with another bogyman to blame for Iran's problems.
For the first time in Iran's 13-year-old revolution, there will be no outside force to blame for the absence of prosperity -- not the policies of the shah's regime, not the turmoil of its overthrow, not the war with Iraq, not the obstreperous parliament dominated by revolutionary purists. If the president tries to find new enemies, a restless population just may not believe him.
Supporters of the clerical leader's policies continued to sweep the polls yesterday, as the government announced more results from the provinces.
The Islamic Republic News Agency reported that Mr. Rafsanjani's supporters had won the majority of the 132 seats already decided in the 270-seat Majlis.
With 65 percent of the vote counted in Tehran, Rafsanjani supporters continued to hold the lead in 29 of the capital's 30 seats, according to the Interior Ministry.
Iranians and the outside world both have high expectations of Mr. Rafsanjani, and are eager to see what will result from his drive for economic reforms and for closer ties with the West. But Mr. Rafsanjani's plans will take time to carry out, and his country is expecting results right away.
"He is likely to continue with a very careful policy, but he's dealing with public opinion that is expecting miracles," said a diplomat in Tehran.
To attract foreign investors, the Iranian cleric must persuade Islamic jurists to rewrite and reinterpret clauses in the constitution so that ministries can give written guarantees to companies willing to pour money into Iran.
In foreign policy, the West is looking forward to a more moderate direction, in particular an end to acts of terrorism against Iran's perceived enemies abroad, support for terrorist groups, and efforts to export the Islamic revolution.
Indeed, Mr. Rafsanjani's government has already tried to assume a more mature role as a regional power, according to his aides, who point to the country's neutrality in the Persian Gulf war.
His aides also complain that Iran has not been adequately rewarded for its help in the release of U.S. hostages held by Iranian-backed groups in Lebanon.
Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati said the United States could, for instance, speed up the release of Iranian assets still held in the United States and lift economic sanctions against Iranian exports imposed during the Iran-Iraq war.