Moral victory claimed by both sides in Iran

Hard-liners take bulk of offices

reformers say boycott of vote succeeded

February 22, 2004|By Robyn Dixon | Robyn Dixon,LOS ANGELES TIMES

TEHRAN, Iran - Conservatives and reformers both claimed a moral victory in Iranian election results yesterday, but the conservatives took most parliamentary seats, as expected, in polling boycotted by leading reform parties protesting the exclusion of many of their candidates.

The Islamic hard-liners, who had staged a last-minute media blitz urging a large turnout, said they were pleased with the voting figures - estimated at 45 percent to 50 percent by Interior Ministry officials and 60 percent by the state media.

Reformers countered that such a turnout amounted to a sharp rebuff for the conservatives. In the last parliamentary vote in 2000, an estimated 67 percent of Iranian voters went to the polls.

Candidates excluded

The conservatives' victory was a foregone conclusion after the hard-line Guardian Council disqualified from the ballot more than 2,400 candidates - including 80 incumbent reformist Parliament members - prompting the main reform parties to withdraw from the balloting.

Reformers said yesterday that the turnout represented a show of protest.

"What happened was exactly the opposite of what they [the conservatives] wanted," said Ali Shakurirad, a leading figure in the Participation Front, the main reform party that withdrew. Mostafa Tajzadeh, another Participation Front leader, said the results indicated that fewer than 10 percent of eligible voters had supported the conservatives in Tehran.

"These elections were not free and were not fair," Tajzadeh said at a news conference. "For the first time since the revolution we knew exactly what the result would be," he said, referring to the 1979 Islamic revolution, which overthrew the shah.

The conservative daily Kayhan headlined its election coverage, "The consolidation of the leadership and the people in an unbelievable Friday." Another conservative daily, Resalat, said millions participated and "another legendary action took place."

Voter disillusionment

Neither side acknowledged that some voters stayed away because of disillusionment and alienation after years of deadlocked parliamentary power struggles between the two sides that produced few popular changes.

As the election approached, conservatives launched a crackdown against reformists and media outlets. Fifteen students were summoned last week to appear in court. An office of the Participation Front was closed, and its Internet site was blocked.

"We think after the elections there will be more repressions against the reformers, especially the outspoken ones," Tajzadeh said. "We are ready for it."

"The reform movement has reached a dead end within the regime itself," said student leader Sadjad Ghoroghi, 23, adding that it would take time to build civil organizations to oppose the regime.

"Young people show their opposition in the way they dress and act," he said. "We think that we will get stronger. The student movement is not a party or a newspaper. You can't close it down or ban it."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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