Middle East

Iran election: Early results suggest gains for reformists

Iranian former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani casts his ballot Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a moderate Conservative, is performing well in early results

Moderates and reformists in Iran, including President Hassan Rouhani, are ahead of conservatives after crucial elections on Friday, early results say.

Mr Rouhani and a former President, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, lead the race for the 88-member Assembly of Experts, which appoints Iran's Supreme Leader.

In parliament, reformists are on course to win almost all of Tehran's 30 seats, a major boost for the president.

The election was the first since a nuclear deal with world powers.

The outcome could affect Mr Rouhani's chances of re-election in 2017.

The twin vote was to elect the 290-seat parliament as well as the Assembly of Experts. The assembly might end up choosing a successor to Ayatollah Khamenei, who is 76 and has suffered ill-health.

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Early results gave Mr Rafsanjani, a moderate Conservative, and Mr Rouhani respectively the most votes for the assembly, which is composed of mostly elder and senior clerics.

By contrast, the leading candidate of Islamic hardliners, Ayatollah Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, was hovering near the bottom of the list.

'Competition is over'

For parliament, former Vice-President Mohammad Reza Araf was topping the list for the capital with almost half the votes counted there. The only conservative so far was former parliament speaker Gholamali Haddad-Adel, in seventh place.

The result is significant because lawmakers from the capital usually determine the political direction of the house, analysts say.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Long lines of people waited to cast their ballots on Friday in the twin elections as the polls opened

However they add that the picture may be more mixed in smaller towns across the country.

Mr Rouhani said the election gave the government more credibility and clout.

"The competition is over. It's time to open a new chapter in Iran's economic development based on domestic abilities and international opportunities," the official Irna news agency quoted him as saying.

"The people showed their power once again and gave more credibility and strength to their elected government."

Voting was extended three times on Friday as crowds reportedly flocked to polling stations. Turnout was more than 60%.

Reformists, who want better relations with the outside world and more freedoms at home, are hoping to gain influence in the conservative-dominated bodies.

But of 12,000 people who registered as candidates, only half were allowed to stand, including just 200 moderates.

Economy 'key issue'

The results of the parliamentary election could take longer to emerge than for the Assembly of Experts and the parliamentary vote is likely to go to a second round in April.

Candidates need 25% of the vote to win outright and there is an average of 17 candidates per seat. Elected MPs will serve four-year terms.

This was the first election to be held since last year's deal between Iran and world powers over the country's nuclear programme and the lifting of sanctions.

BBC Persian's Ali Hamedani says the economy was a key issue in the process.

With sanctions lifted and Western investors beginning to return to Iran, there are high hopes for an improvement in daily life, he says.

Reformists and moderates say they are targeting greater foreign investment which, our correspondent says, will create jobs for young people.

More than half of Iranians are under 35 but the youth unemployment rate is 25% - more than two and a half times the national average.

However, conservatives say strong economic growth is more likely to come from domestic production in what they describe as a "resistance economy" that draws on the ideals of the country's 1979 Islamic Revolution.

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Media captionYoung people tell the BBC what they want for their future