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Preliminary Results Show Conservatives Will Win Easy Victory in Iranian Parliamentary Election - 2004-02-21

Early results suggest Iran's Islamic conservatives will likely win an easy victory in Friday's parliamentary election. The poll was preceded by weeks of political feuding, and was boycotted by several reformist parties.

Preliminary results indicate that Iran's Islamic conservatives will likely take more than 146 seats in the 290-member parliament, giving them a parliamentary majority. But it may be a hollow victory. Some figures suggest that less than 50 percent of Iran's 46 million eligible voters went to the polls. Hard-liners are claiming a high voter turnout.

The controversial election was boycotted by most reformist candidates, as a protest against the ruling Guardian Council's decision to bar more than 2,300 reformists from running, a move critics say was an attempt to hang onto power. The Guardian Council is an unelected body that holds veto power over parliament.

Despite defeat at the polls, reformist leaders say they have won a moral victory.

Shakouri Rad is a leading member of the reformist group, the Islamic Participation Front.

He says, the conservatives wanted to create an atmosphere in which 35 to 40 million people would participate in the election, and they did this with the full capacity of the government behind them. He says, since this goal has not been met, they have been defeated. Mr. Rad adds that, since the reformists did not participate, they cannot say they won, but he says the conservatives have definitely lost.

Reformists have dominated the legislature since the last election in 2000, when they took two-thirds of parliament's seats. But analysts say their push to liberalize Iranian society, led by President Mohammed Khatami, has lost some of its momentum and direction, in part due to staunch resistance from conservatives. And that has led to some disillusionment among ordinary Iranians, despite the reformists' decision to boycott Friday's election.

"I think what they did was good and brave, but it was too late, too little, too late, as you guys [Americans] say," said an Iranian.

Different factions of Iran's reform movement have vowed to continue to put pressure on the country's conservative leadership, but, so far, no clear program has emerged.

Final election results are expected next week.