By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Early returns from Iran’s parliamentary election showed conservative opponents of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad out in front.
Supporters of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei were reported ahead in several constituencies, with the younger sister of Ahmadinejad, Parvin Ahmadinejad, said to be heading for a loss in their hometown of Garmsar.
Up for grabs are 290 seats in Iran’s majlis, or parliament.
Interior Minister Mohammed Najar has cited a turnout of 64 percent, although he added that figure was “inconclusive and may be slightly more or less,” according to RFE/RL’s Radio Farda.
Najar said some 135 candidates had so far won seats, with results from larger constituencies expected by March 5.
The election is the first since Ahmadinejad won reelection in a 2009 poll that reformists say was riddled with fraud. The resulting street protests sparked repressive countermeasures that included paramilitary and police sweeps, mass televised trials, and accusations of torture and extrajudiciary killings of detainees.
Reformers were being encouraged to boycott the March 2 poll.
Analysts said Iran’s poor economy, including record inflation, was likely to hurt the chances of candidates aligned with Ahmadinejad.
Polling was extended five hours amid what authorities were already describing as a high election-day turnout.
Khamenei had said heavy participation would send a strong message to Iran’s enemies amid the nuclear standoff with the West and talk of possible Israeli or U.S. plans to strike militarily to set back Iran’s atomic efforts, which some Western governments suspect is aimed at a bomb-making capability.
Newspaper headlines on March 3 boasted of voter enthusiasm throughout the country, and some local residents on the streets confirmed that the polls were crowded in their districts.
“I participated and I saw a good turnout of people, which was eye-catching, especially in the final hours,” Tehran resident Davood Atashgahi told Reuters. “People really welcomed it in the final hours.”
But some Tehran residents said they remained discouraged by the Islamic republic’s problems, which they call so great that voting may do little to solve them.