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Wednesday, March 3, 1999 Published at 02:33 GMT

World: Middle East

Iran's women show political muscle

Election campaigning Tehran style

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's eldest sister was among the winners as moderate and female candidates performed well in the first nationwide local elections since the revolution.

In a major blow to the conservative clerical establishment Iranian reformists look certain to seize control of Tehran's city council.

Partial results give supporters of moderate President Mohammad Khatami at least 12 of the 15 seats, with independents likely to get the other three seats.

Results in several thousand small towns and villages have been published, but officials say those for the big cities will take several days.
[ image: Women played a major role in the polls]
Women played a major role in the polls
In the central desert town of Ardakan, the president's hometown, his sister Fatemeh Khatami, 61, came top in her contest winning 15,600 votes with the next candidate winning about 6,000 votes.

"All I can say is that I hope I will be able to serve the people," said the mother of six, a former local government adviser in women's affairs.

'Giant step'

Women made up 5,000 of 300,000 candidates running in last Friday's elections to city and village councils. Counting in some areas is still continuing with final results expected on Friday.

Women were reported to be front-runners in at least 20 cities with nearly all of them supporters of the president, who has encouraged women to play a bigger role in politics.

Jim Muir: "initial results indicate candidates supporting reformist President Khatami have scored a significant victory".
The top female vote winner in Tehran is Jamileh Kadivar in third place. She is a former adviser to President Khatami,

"Iranian society appears to want to give women the chance to prove themselves. Men have not done so well, and so people think `let's give the women a chance,"' she said .

Deputy Interior Minister Mostafa Tajzadeh, head of the electoral commission, described the vote as "a giant step towards participation in the country's public administration".

Forced out

Former Interior Minister Abdollah Nouri, who is leading the reformers, received the highest number of votes in the capital.

Mr Nouri was forced out of government last year because of his support for greater social, political and cultural freedom.

Hardliners had also tried but failed to disqualify him from running in Friday's landmark election.

[ image: Mr Khatami's supporters are sweeping the board]
Mr Khatami's supporters are sweeping the board
The nationwide polls were introduced by Mr Khatami to help break the centralised grip of the conservative establishment.

State radio said about 25 million voters cast ballots - a 65% turnout.

In the holy city of Mashhad, the stronghold of influential conservative cleric Ayatollah Abbas Vaez-Tabasi, the four front- runners are independents, followed by reformers and conservatives, according to the Abrar newspaper.

Reports from central Isfahan, the most politicised city after Tehran, showed reformers leading by a wide margin.

Local journalists said pro-Khatami candidates were set to take seven of 11 city council seats, with the balance going to conservatives.

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