TEHRAN - Loyalists of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have won most seats in the Islamic Republic's parliamentary election, reducing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to a lame duck.
"The vote showed that there is a deepening rift between the ruling elites, analyst Hamid Farahvashian told Reuters on Sunday, March 4.
It might emerge in the coming weeks."
With 90 percent of ballot boxes counted, Khamenei loyalists were expected to occupy more than 75 percent of the 290 seats in the Majlis (parliament), according to a list published by the interior ministry.
In the race for the 30 seats in the capital Tehran, a Reuters tally of unofficial preliminary returns showed Khamenei supporters had taken 19 and pro-Ahmadinejad candidates the rest.
Pro-Khamenei candidates won in the Shiite holy cities of Qom and Mashhad.
The Supreme Leader's loyalists were also leading in other major provincial cities like Isfahan and Tabriz, where over 90 percent of voters backed Ahmadinejad in the 2009 parliamentary poll.
Even in rural areas that have been strongholds of Ahmadinejad's and his populist brand of non-clerical nationalism, Khamenei loyalists appeared to have swept around 70 percent of the seats.
Independents and women candidates fared relatively well in many provincial towns, where they campaigned on the immediate concerns - generally economic -- of their constituents.
The results of Friday's vote are hard to compare with the outgoing parliament since Khamenei and Ahmadinejad loyalists were united in the 2008 elections, garnering about 70 percent of seats.
Tensions between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad surfaced last year when the president tried to sack his intelligence minister.
After boycotting his own office for several days in protest, the president returned to work.
Since then, those loyal to Khamenei have used every opportunity to undermine Ahmadinejad, accusing him of challenging the supreme leader's authority and being under the spell of a "deviant current" that has attempted to dilute the Islamic nature of Iran's government.
The election results are expected to reduce President Ahmadinejad to a lame duck
"Ahmadinejad's camp has not been demolished, analyst Farahvashian told Reuters.
We have to wait and see what happens after the new parliament convenes in June."
Ahmadinejad is likely to be summoned to an unprecedented hearing in the outgoing parliament by Friday to answer questions about his handling of the economy and foreign policy.
Some critics say he has inflicted higher inflation on Iranians by slashing food and fuel subsidies and replacing them with cash handouts of about $38 a month per person.
Parliament could impeach Ahmadinejad if his explanations are unconvincing, but Khamenei's green light would be needed.
Analysts said Ahmadinejad is likely to survive his term - but as a lame duck president.
"The establishment is under Western pressure and does not want to look divided," said analyst Babak Sadeghi.
"Ahmadinejad will finish his term as a weak executive."
Under mounting Western pressure over its nuclear program and concerns that Israel might attack, Iran's clerical elite needed a high election turnout to shore up their legitimacy damaged since Ahmadinejad's 2009 re-election, in which fraud allegations triggered eight months of anti-government protests.
Khamenei, 72, said a high turnout would be a message of defiance to "the arrogant powers bullying us," a reference to Western states and sanctions against Iran.
State officials said the turnout was over 64 percent, higher than the 57 percent in the 2008 parliamentary vote.
Absent from the vote were the two main opposition leaders. Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, who ran for president in 2009, have been under house arrest for more than a year.Iran denies Western suspicions that it is enriching uranium with the ultimate goal of developing nuclear weapons, saying the program is for peaceful energy only.