Rouhani allies win most seats in second round of polling

Moderate and reformist candidates emerge as largest bloc in Iran's next parliament, boosting hopes of economic and social change.

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Tehran // Reformist and moderate Iranian politicians allied with president Hassan Rouhani won a big victory in second round parliamentary elections on Saturday.

The outcome represents a significant realignment of competing factions in Iran, with conservative MPs losing their dominance and being outnumbered for the first time since 2004.

It was also an implicit public vote of confidence in Mr Rouhani, who won a landslide election victory in 2013 and went on to clinch a historic deal with world powers over Tehran’s nuclear programme that lifted sanctions.

Official results also showed 17 women were elected – eight more than at present and the highest female representation since the country’s revolution in 1979.

Almost a quarter of parliament’s seats were at stake in run-offs on Friday in what was a showdown between reformists and conservatives seeking to influence the country’s future.

Although Iran’s parliament has marginal powers – under the country’s theocratic rule clerics can veto legislation – the result will help the government deliver economic reforms such as a new oil contracts law that could tempt foreign investment.

It could also speed up social change demanded by reformists.

Their return as a major force is a shake up for hardliners in Tehran after an era of diplomatic clashes with the West over a nuclear programme that, before Mr Rouhani, had left Iran under threat of military attack.

Most parliament members who opposed the landmark agreement struck last year after years of talks with Tehran’s long-time foe the United States and other leading nations were rejected by voters.

That verdict should make Mr Rouhani’s job easier.

Iran does not have rigid party affiliations, making election outcomes notoriously opaque. Some candidates were backed by both camps and others stood as independents.

But of the 68 seats that were contested on Friday, 38 went to the pro-Rouhani List of Hope coalition, 18 to conservatives and 12 to independents, according to final results published by the interior ministry.

That gives reformists 133 seats in the new 290-member parliament, 13 shy of a majority but more than their rivals’ 125 MPs. Remaining seats went to independents and minorities who could hold the balance of power.

The second ballot on Friday was needed because no candidate won the minimum 25 per cent required in the first round.

In stark contrast to the first two-and-a-half years of his presidency, the result should give Mr Rouhani a supportive parliament. The outgoing conservative-led chamber repeatedly blocked him and even impeached one of his ministers.

Iran’s reformists have encouraged foreign investment, support moves for greater diplomatic rapprochement and seek social change and fewer political restrictions at home.

Their electoral gains in February came just six weeks after Tehran’s implementation of the nuclear deal.

Around 17 million citizens were eligible to vote on Friday and polling took place in 21 provinces, but not in Tehran, as reformists won all of the capital’s 30 seats in the first round.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had urged a strong turnout, saying the vote was no less important than the initial poll.

The vote buys some time for Mr Rouhani to try to turn around a struggling economy amid concern over the nuclear deal. He faces a re-election battle next June and would have been severely wounded had conservatives staged a fightback in the second round vote.

*Agence France-Presse