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Iranian Conservatives, Reformists Await Preliminary Election Results - 2004-02-20

Iranian officials say preliminary results of Friday's parliamentary elections are expected early Saturday. Iran's reformist and conservative camps will be watching to see how many people came out to cast their votes in the controversial ballot.

According to Iran's interior ministry, some 46 million people were eligible to vote in Friday's poll. Iran's state-controlled media, which have been broadcasting messages by Iran's supreme leader urging people to participate, said Friday that voter turnout was strong. The officials extended voting hours in many parts of Iran.

But an Iranian exile group in London, which monitors the poll, said most voters stayed away.

The elections were tainted by the conservative Guardian Council's disqualification of thousands of reformist candidates, many of whom called on Iranians to boycott the elections.

Most observers say the ban on reformist candidates makes a conservative takeover of parliament almost inevitable.

But analyst Mohamed El-Saiid Abdel Moemen, a professor of Iranian Studies at Cairo University, says that even if Iran's hard-liners gain control of parliament, they could pursue more moderate policies.

He says the conservative powers in Iran's leadership realize that they must be flexible, and are likely to act in Iran's interest by taking steps to improve relations with the United States.

Reformists were elected to a majority of seats in Iran's parliament four years ago, but many of their attempts to pass reformist legislation were blocked by the hard-line Guardian Council.