Ahmadinejad losing in local elections

Rafsanjani, one of Ahmadinejad's main opponents, leads by a 2:1 margin.

Ahmadinejad hands 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Ahmadinejad hands 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Iran's interior ministry confirmed Sunday that former president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani has a comfortable lead in the polls of the Experts' Assembly elections. The development was seen as a setback for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - although Ahmadinejad himself insisted Sunday that the elections were not a popularity test for himself. Rafsanjani, one of Ahmadinejad's main opponents, gained almost two times more votes than the presidential candidate Mohamad-Taqi Mesbah- Yazdi, who is only in sixth place, official said. Rafsanjani represented the coalition of reformists and moderates in the elections for the Experts' Assembly which has the power to appoint, supervise and even oust Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who constitutionally has the final say in state affairs. The new anti-Ahmadinejad coalition is also backed by former reformist President Mohammad Khatami, who appeared together with Rafsanani at the polling station in the Jamaran mosque in north Tehran on Friday, demonstrating their political solidarity. Ahmadinejad earlier rejected Western interpretations that the two elections in Iran have been a popularity test for his person. "These are just empty phrases by the foreign press for undermining the people's solidarity," he told a press briefing at the election headquarters in the interior ministry in Tehran. Ahmadinejad's government has termed the people as the main winners of the elections and the turnout as a way of neutralizing "Western conspiracies" against Iran. "The government has no sensitivity on who wins or loses in the elections," Ahmadinejad claimed. "For us the participation of over 28 million people (60 per cent) in the elections shows national solidarity and is the best fuel for the engine of future programmes." Initial results of the municipality elections indicate that the presidential group named "The Sweet Smell of Service" gained only two of the fifteen seats of the Tehran City Council. The Abadgaran (Development) party, of which Ahmadinejad was a senior member, distanced itself from the president in the run-up to the elections owing to differences over the mayor. While Abadgaran wanted the current technocrat mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf to continue, the Ahmadinejad group reportedly insisted on appointing a new mayor. Although Abadgaran seems to get the majority in the Tehran City Council it has lost total domination and must share the seats with reformists close to Khatami and Rafsanjani. Due to differences over the computerized counting process, the election headquarters in the interior ministry has to count the votes manually. The announcement of final results is therefore expected to take at least two more days. The final results of the Experts Assembly elections were to be announced later Sunday but observers consider it certain that Rafsanjani will maintain the pole position until the end.