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Last Updated:  Sunday, 2 March, 2003, 00:05 GMT
Iran reformers suffer poll blow
President Khatami votes
The polls were seen as a test for President Khatami

Local elections in Iran have delivered a major boost to Islamic conservatives in the country, initial results show.

According to partial counts, conservative candidates are set to win 14 out of 15 council seats in the capital Tehran, Iran's state IRNA news agency quoted the city's governor as saying.

This would be a blow to reformist President Mohammad Khatami, for whom the nationwide city and village council elections have been seen as a test of his six years in office.

However the turnout in Tehran was low, only around 25 percent, indicating disillusionment with politics and the slow pace of change in the country.

One electoral official quoted by IRNA said turnout in the city may have been as little as 15 percent.

Around the country, people went to the polls on Friday to elect 905 city councils and 34,205 village councils.

Public frustration

Recent elections in Iran have been regarded as a test of strength between reformists and hardliners.

But as public frustration over the pace of reform grows, this poll was seen as a kind of referendum on the popularity of the president and his programme of peaceful and legal reform.

Iran

It is the second time elections of this type have taken place. They were introduced 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.

Unlike presidential and parliamentary elections, candidates are not screened by the conservative dominated guardian council. Instead, they are approved by an election board at the interior ministry, now dominated by reformers.

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

Many of the estimated 41 million eligible voters are under the age of 30. They feel disillusioned at the rate of change and believe that by taking part means an acceptance of the system, something which many are now no longer prepared to do.

Some conservative groups called on their followers to stay away hoping to show that Mr Khatami's policies have failed.

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SEE ALSO:
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The modern face of Iran
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Iran parliament backs reformist bill
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