Iranian reformists request Tehran vote recount

TEHRAN Wed Mar 19, 2008 3:21pm EDT

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TEHRAN (Reuters) - Reformist opponents of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad requested a recount of votes cast in Tehran in last week's election after conservatives swept to victory, a news agency reported on Wednesday.

Reformists seeking social and political change have complained Friday's vote was stacked against them even before voters went to the polls because many of their candidates were barred from running by a pre-election vetting process.

The Guardian Council, which supervised the election and rejected many of the reformists, said it was ready to recount some of the Tehran votes in response to the request.

Conservatives, who say they are committed to the Islamic Republic's ideals, won more than 70 percent of seats so far decided in the 290-member parliament. Runoff ballots in some areas will be held in April or May.

In the race for Tehran's 30 seats, all of the 19 won outright in the first round went to conservatives. Reformists will be among those contesting runoff votes.

Former President Mohammad Khatami and ex-parliament speaker Mehdi Karoubi, both leading reformists, called for a recount because of "worries regarding the outcome of elections in Tehran and in order to prevent any possible violation of rights".

The comments were made in a statement issued by the Coalition of Reformist Groups and carried by ISNA news agency.

"The request came for a recount of the Tehran votes and, if (a full recount is) not possible, picking random boxes in the presence of candidates or representatives acceptable to candidates in the election," the statement said.

The Guardian Council said all the votes could not be tallied again, Fars News Agency reported. A council official said: "However, the random counting of votes in ballot boxes is possible and the Guardian Council will undertake that."

ROUGH RIDE

Many reformists were blocked from running by the conservative-controlled council, a supervisory body made up of clerics and jurists. Reformists say the bans were aimed at handing victory to conservatives. The council denies bias.

Although conservatives have retained control of the chamber, the camp is split between backers of the hardline president and critics. That means Ahmadinejad could still face a rough ride from parliament before next year's presidential election.

Analysts say some of the more moderate conservatives could team up with reformists, who have so far won about 40 seats, to challenge Ahmadinejad, particularly over the economy, where he has been blamed for soaring inflation.

Iran's nuclear, foreign and oil policies are ultimately determined by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, not parliament or the president, so they are not expected to be changed as a result of the vote.

However, reformists and a few conservatives have questioned Ahmadinejad's handling of the nuclear issue. They say his fiery speeches have riled the West, which has led efforts to impose U.N. sanctions. They say more diplomacy would have been better.

Western capitals accuse Iran of seeking nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies. Iran, the world's fourth largest oil producer, says it wants to master nuclear technology so it can generate electricity and export more of its oil and gas.

The supreme leader has praised Ahmadinejad's uncompromising stance in the nuclear row.

(Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Robert Woodward)

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