TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Reformists and moderate conservatives were leading in parliamentary elections according to early results Saturday, an indication President Hassan Rouhani may face a more friendly house to pursue his domestic agenda.
Early returns from Friday's polls show that none of the three competing political factions will win a majority in the 290-seat parliament. But reformists seeking greater democratic changes are heading toward their strongest presence since 2004 at the expense of hard-liners.
Officials are yet to release early results but reports in the semiofficial Fars and Mehr news agencies and a count conducted by The Associated Press show that hard-liners are the main losers of the vote.
Friday's election for Iran's parliament and a powerful clerical body known as the Assembly of Experts was the first since Iran's landmark nuclear deal with world powers last year.
Reformists seeking greater democratic changes and moderates supporting Rouhani appear to be cashing in on the lifting of international sanctions the moderate president achieved under last summer's historic agreement.
Nearly 55 million of Iran's 80 million people were eligible to vote. Participation figures and other statistics were not immediately available, though Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli predicted late Thursday there would be a turnout of 70 percent.
Polls were closed at midnight and officials immediately began counting the ballots afterward. As more ballots are counted, reformists appear to be on the path to expand their presence from the fewer than 20 they currently hold to a majority with the moderate conservatives and reduce the number of hard-liners.
Partial results emerging from about 50 small towns across Iran, show reformists and their moderate allies were leading the vote with moderate conservatives and hard-liners trailing behind them. In the capital Tehran, officials counting the ballots at three different districts confirmed to The Associated Press that reformists were leading far ahead of their hard-line rivals.
The hard line camp is largely made up of loyalists of Rouhani's predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who during his two terms in office avidly stoked tensions with the U.S. and cracked down on internal dissidents.
In a bid to squeeze them out, reformists have allied with moderate conservatives, many of whom split with the hard liners because of Ahmadinejad.
Reformists stormed to power with the 1997 election of President Mohammad Khatami, followed by 2000 parliamentary elections that brought a reformist majority in parliament for the first time. The movement pressed for an easing of Islamic social restrictions, greater public voice in politics and freedom of expression and better ties to the international community.
But that hold was broken in the next election in 2004, when reformist candidates were largely barred from running. Ahmadinejad's election victory in 2005 sealed the movement's downfall. Reformists were all but shut out of politics for nearly a decade until Rouhani was elected.