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Last Updated:  Saturday, 1 March, 2003, 16:11 GMT
Hardliners set to sweep Iran poll
President Khatami votes
Reformist supporters of Khatami have lost out
Conservative candidates have taken a massive lead over reformists in Iranian local elections, according to early results.

Official Iranian media reported hardline candidates had unseated liberal councillors who had previously monopolised Tehran City Council, after a partial count.

Observers say the results show dissatisfaction among voters at the slow pace of reformers to affect social and political changes.

Reformists, led by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, have been locked in a long-term power struggle with reactionary clerics loyal to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

In Tehran, conservatives were poised to take 14 of the council's 15 seats, news agencies reported.

Final results are expected on Sunday.

Poll test

The elections are widely seen as a test of President Khatami's six years in office.

As public frustration over the pace of reform grows, this poll is being seen as a kind of referendum on the popularity of the president and his programme of peaceful change.

More than 200,000 candidates, including 5,000 women, are standing for about 180,000 seats throughout the country.

This year a wider pool of names were admitted in the ballot, including several liberal dissidents from the opposition Iran Freedom Movement, which was banned by a court last July.

On Friday, Ayatollah Khamenei issued a veiled threat that he would invalidate the election of anyone proven to have breached electoral regulations.

Conservative clerics have accused liberal dissidents of wanting to overthrow the Islamic establishment.

Second election

It is the second time elections of these type have taken place.

They first took place in 1999 as part of President Khatami's concept of a civil society at the grassroots level.

After casting his vote in the capital, the president called on all Iranians to take part, saying they were the basis of democracy.

Officials said as few as 25% of voters turned out in Tehran, while in villages and small towns turnout was as high as 95%t.

Unlike in presidential and parliamentary elections, candidates were not screened by the conservative-dominated Guardian Council.

Instead, they are approved by an election board at the Interior Ministry, now dominated by reformers.

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