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Sunday, October 25, 1998 Published at 22:04 GMT

World: Middle East

Victory for Iran's conservatives

President Khatami (left) and Ayatollah Khamenei casting their votes - no equal opportunities

Iran's conservatives secured control of a powerful clerical assembly, the 86-member Assembly of Experts, which alone can name or dismiss the Islamic republic's supreme leader.

"It was not a true contest" - Jim Muir reports from Teheran
The post, which carries powers which greatly exceed those of the elected president, is currently filled by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, widely considered to be close to hardliners and conservatives.

Official state media indicated that less than half of Iran's 39 million eligible voters took part - 46% compared with 37% for the last Assembly polls in 1990.

The conservative establishment described the higher turnout as a victory for Iran's Islamic system.

[ image: Iranian women also took part - but were missing from the candidate list]
Iranian women also took part - but were missing from the candidate list
"What drew people to the polls was love, love toward the system...and the revolution," the conservative daily Reselat said in a commentary.

But the Salam newspaper, which is close to reformist clerics, said that voters had turned out only from a sense of responsibility to the Islamic system, not out of genuine democratic sentiment.

The BBC's correspondent in Teheran, Jim Muir, says that far fewer people voted than at last year's presidential elections, which swept Mr Khatami in power.

Moderates will be diappointed reports Jim Muir
Progressives had hinted at a boycott to protest against the vetting of candidates, which excluded many supporters of the moderate President Mohammad Khatami from the election.

Out of the 161 finalists - none of them women - some 130 came from the conservative camp.

But the latest returns appeared to show only Tehran, a hotbed of pro-Khatami sentiment, failed to turn out in strength.

The latest returns of the election held on Friday showed that candidates backed by the Association of Militant Clergy, the leading right-wing faction, won 42 seats.

Another 21 winning candidates were backed jointly by the Association and Iran's leading centrist party, although they are widely recognised as conservatives, but less absolutist.

Some 23 other seats went to candidates identified as independents or affiliated with the moderates.

Results from the capital, by far Iran's biggest city, showed that just one outright leftist cleric has secured a seat on the Assembly of Experts.

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