TEHRAN. – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has earned an emphatic vote of confidence and reformist partners secured surprise gains in parliament in early results from elections that could accelerate the Islamic Republic’s emergence from years of isolation. As of yesterday morning, latest results showed reformist candidates have taken all of the 30 seats in the capital Tehran, while Rouhani and his ally former president Hashemi Rafsanjani lead the winners in the assembly of experts, which is responsible for selecting the country’s next supreme leader.
It remains unclear if the results in Iran will be replicated in other parts of the country. But a Reuters tally, based on official but partial results, also showed independents winning 44 seats, reformists 79, and hardliners 106 in the 290-seat parliament.
A number of seats could be decided in run-offs in late April if no candidate wins the required 25 percent of votes cast. Eight of the initial winners were women.
A loosening of control by the anti-Western hardliners who currently dominate the parliament could strengthen Rouhani’s hand to open Iran further to foreign trade and investment following last year’s breakthrough nuclear deal.
“The people showed their power once again and gave more credibility and strength to their elected government,” Rouhani said, adding he would work with anyone who won election to build a future for the industrialised, oil-exporting country.
The polls were seen by analysts as a potential turning point for Iran, where nearly 60 percent of its 80 million population is under 30 and eager to engage with the world following the lifting of most sanctions. Nearly 33 million people voted to elect representatives to parliament and the country’s highest clerical body.
Supporters of Rouhani, who promoted the nuclear deal, were pitted against hardliners close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who are wary of detente with Western countries.
Until now, the contest for this seat of clerical power was an unremarkable event, but not this time. Because of Khamenei’s health and age, 76, the new assembly members who serve eight-year terms are likely to choose his successor. The next leader could well be among those elected this week. – Al Jazeera/Agencies.