Tehran: Iran, under intense Western pressure over its disputed nuclear programme, on Saturday declared an initial turnout of 64 per cent in a parliamentary election shunned by most reformists as a sham.
Iran's Islamic clerical leadership is eager to restore the damage to its legitimacy caused by the violent crushing of eight months of street protests after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected in a 2009 vote his opponents said was rigged.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who endorsed the 2009 result, has since turned sharply against Ahmadinejad. Some early results from Friday's vote suggested the divisive president's supporters were losing ground in the 290-seat parliament.
His sister, Parvin Ahmadinejad, failed to win a seat in their hometown of Garmsar, the semi-official Mehr news agency said. Elsewhere, Khamenei loyalists appeared to be doing well.
Interior Minister Mustafa Mohammad Najjar put the turnout at 64 per cent after more than 26 million votes had been counted, telling state television the Iranian nation had disappointed its enemies by voting in such numbers. The figure was close to the 65 per cent predicted for weeks by hardline conservative leaders and media.
Najjar said 135 seats had been won outright so far, with 10 going to a run-off. Final results were not expected yesterday.
Hard to compare
According to a Reuters tally of the results announced in 126 seats, 81 went to Khamenei supporters, 9 to Ahmadinejad's faction, 7 to reformists and 7 to independents, with the allegiance of the remaining winners unclear.
The results are hard to compare with the outgoing parliament because hardline Khamenei and Ahmadinejad loyalists were united in the 2008 elections, taking about 70 per cent of seats.
Results declared so far were mostly from rural areas, Ahmadinejad's traditional strongholds. Khamenei's candidates were expected to do well in Tehran and other big cities. Khamenei, 72, had called for a high turnout to send a message of defiance to "the arrogant powers bullying us".
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Iran's election was not free or fair.
"The regime has presented the vote as a test of loyalty, rather than an opportunity for people freely to choose their own representatives," he said.
No independent observers were on hand to monitor the voting or check the official turnout figures. An unelected Guardian Council, which vets all candidates, barred 35 sitting MPs from seeking re-election and nearly 2,000 other would-be candidates.
The vote took place without the two main opposition leaders. Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who ran for president in 2009, have been under house arrest for more than a year.
Iran has been hard hit by Western sanctions over its refusal to halt sensitive nuclear activity and be transparent with UN nuclear inspectors. Israel, whose leader meets US President Barack Obama tomorrow, has talked of war.