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The BBC's John Simpson
"Reformists predict victory"
 real 28k

The BBC's Jim Muir in Tehran
"Universal expectation is that the conservatives will lose control of parliament"
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Saturday, 19 February, 2000, 02:43 GMT
Iranian reformists scent victory

Billboard covered by election posters in Tehran Billboards covered by election posters in Tehran

Reformists are already predicting victory in Iran's parliamentary elections, following a record turn-out.

Within minutes of polls closing, the interior ministry announced that more than 75% of the electorate had cast their ballots - the highest turn-out in the 21 years of the Islamic Republic.

I hope today's election will be one of the most glorious, historical moments of our nation
President Mohammad Khatami
Queues of people waiting to vote were so long that polling stations remained open for two extra hours throughout the country.

It is expected to be several days before all the results are known.

The election is being regarded as a crucial contest between reformist supporters of President Mohammad Khatami and conservatives who have been in control of parliament.

Women queue to vote in the holy city of Qom Women queue to vote in the holy city of Qom
As the president cast his vote at a mosque in north Tehran, he said a high turn-out would allow the popular will to be reflected in parliament.

"I hope today's election will be one of the most glorious, historical moments of our nation," he said.

Mr Khatami will need a reformist majority if he is to push forward his programme of social and political change.

Vote for change

Our correspondent says that, at most polling stations in the capital, the emerging picture was the same - a big turn-out with most voters saying they were opting for candidates from the reformist movement.

This is a test, a divine duty.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
One of the biggest polling centres in a largely middle class area of north Tehran was crowded for most of the day. Election officials said the turn-out there was bigger than during the presidential election nearly three years ago, when the president scored a surprising landslide victory.

In south Tehran, a generally poorer area, many of those who turned out - especially the elderly - were voting for candidates approved by the right-wing Clerical Associations.

Ayatollah Khamenei Ayatollah Khamenei urged caution
But even there, our correspondent says substantial numbers of voters said they were choosing the reformist candidates in the hope that President Khatami would have a chance to make good on his pledges of a better future for everyone.

The elections come at a defining moment in the battle over how far the Islamic Constitution should allow for change.

The reformists say they want to open up the country, while the conservatives talk about protecting the Islamic state.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the senior conservative figure in Iran, urged Iranians to choose carefully.

Iran's elections
38.7m eligible voters
6,000 candidates
290 seats
Run-off for top vote-winners who fail to get 25%
He said: "I emphasise this is a test, a divine duty. It's an opportunity to exercise one's right.

"Please people, when casting your vote pay attention and be selective, so the best people who are the most useful to the country are elected."

Mr Khatami, who won power by appealing to women and young voters, hopes the same strategy will enable his supporters to end the conservatives' ability to block his reforms in parliament.

Hard-line conservatives have warned that the principles of the 1979 Islamic Revolution will receive a fatal blow if the reformists succeed.

The third way

However, some analysts say the final outcome could be determined by the performance of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, who surprised many people by deciding to run as a candidate.

Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani Mr Rafsanjani may hold the balance of power in the new parliament
He is a major figure in Iran's revolutionary history and is supported by the right wing, but also by the centrist Servants of Construction Party which is part of the reformist front.

If the reformists do not gain an outright majority, they may need the support of Mr Rafsanjani and his party to get legislation passed.

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See also:
18 Feb 00 |  Middle East
Analysis: All eyes on Iran
11 Feb 00 |  Middle East
Khatami urges reformist landslide
18 Feb 00 |  Middle East
In pictures: Iran goes to the polls
17 Feb 00 |  Media reports
Iran's 'violent political game'
30 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Poll test for Iran reformists
29 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Iran election short-list cut by 670
15 Feb 00 |  Middle East
Countdown to Iran elections

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