Hard-liners win national elections for key Iranian assembly

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Even the losers praised the election for an assembly of Iran’s ruling clergy, calling it a triumph for democracy.
However, the victory for hard-liners announced Sunday could set back moderate President Mohammad Khatami’s reforms.
Conservatives won at least 54 places on the 86-seat Assembly of Experts in Friday’s vote. Moderates won only 13 seats in the assembly, which oversees the country’s supreme leader.
Sixteen seats went to candidates whose affiliation was unclear — but who probably lean toward the hard-line camp, and three others went to independents who are believed closer to the moderates.
“We took a step, however small, toward the democratization of Iranian society in a reformist manner,” said Saeid Laylaz, of the Executives of Construction party, which supports Khatami.
Even with just 15 percent of the seats, Laylaz said the moderates will still have a substantial say in the oversight of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the choice of his eventual successor.
Assadollah Badamchian, a leader of the ultra-conservative Islamic Coalition Group, saw the vote itself as the real success. He said the Assembly of Experts always has functioned according to the country’s constitution.
In recent months, hard-liners like Badamchian have fought Khatami’s popular efforts to grant more freedom to the press and the arts and reduce Islamic strictures on the average citizen. Khatami’s tenure has posed the biggest challenge to conservatives since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution.
Nationwide, about 18 million, or 47 percent, of the 38.5 million eligible voters cast ballots in Friday’s vote.