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Pro-Rouhani candidates take early lead

Reformists and moderate conservatives allied with President Hassan Rouhani have made a strong showing in Iran's parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections, and key hard-liners seem to have lost big.
Supporters of Ali Motahari, a candidate for the upcoming parliamentary elections, hold his electoral posters during a campaign gathering of candidates mainly close to the reformist camp, in Tehran February 23, 2016. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/TIMAATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY.   - RTX287FM

As the nationwide results of Iran's parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections roll in, it has become clear that Reformists and moderate conservatives, both of whom have been supportive of President Hassan Rouhani’s policies, have taken an early lead and kept key hard-liners out of office.

All the 30 candidates under the Reformist list for Tehran have been voted into parliament, blocking all the candidates from the conservative list. The top candidate was Reformist leader Mohammad Reza Aref. The second was Ali Motahari, a moderate conservative candidate who was on the Reformist list. In one of its most unusual aspects, the list featured eight female candidates, who have all made it into parliament. The exclusion of hard-line figures and former allies of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be welcome news for Rouhani as he focuses on domestic policy in the final two years of his presidency.

After losing a number of high-profile elections in the last decade, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has made a comeback, winning the most votes in Tehran for the Assembly of Experts. Rouhani, who belonged to the same moderate list as Rafsanjani, was also one of the top candidates. In fact, 15 of Tehran's 16 seats in the Assembly of Experts went to Rouhani allies. Notable omissions from the Tehran assembly list included Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi and Ayatollah Mohammad-Taghi Mesbah Yazdi. Many critics of Mesbah Yazdi, the former spiritual adviser to hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and current spiritual leader of the hard-line Endurance Front, noted that he once said, “In an Islamic government the vote of the people has no religious or legal validity.” Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, who also heads the powerful Guardian Council, squeaked by in 16th place on the Assembly list for Tehran.

Reformist media outlets have been jubilant about the results coming out of the Interior Ministry. Many Reformist newspapers are featuring pictures of Rouhani and Rafsanjani and listing the 30 candidates that won Tehran's parliament seats. Some hard-line outlets have attempted to declare victory, grouping themselves and moderate conservatives under one conservative umbrella.

Moderate conservatives have been mostly allied with the president on key decisions in the country. While the official countrywide results are not yet in, it is possible that conservative candidates will do well in other provinces. However, the failure of hard-line candidates in Tehran is certainly a blow that will be difficult to recover from.

Analyst Mehdi Mohammadi, a former adviser to hard-line former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, conceded that these elections were a blow to conservatives in Tehran. “From my view, more than anything else, the people have decided to give the Hassan Rouhani administration more time,” he wrote on his Telegram account. Perhaps criticizing Reformists for their reactions to past election losses, he added that conservatives will abide by “the ethics of failure” in acepting the loss.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised the election process. In a message posted on his website, he wrote that for the 36th time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iranians took part in nationwide elections and “showed the bright and powerful face of a religious democracy to the world.” Khamenei said that “these are sensitive times” and that “the future parliament will have a heavy responsibility.”

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