Moderates set for victory in Iran elections

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PRESIDENT KHATAMI of Iran was heading for another victory in his battle with the country's conservative clerical establishment yesterday. Early results of the elections for Tehran's city council showed moderate supporters of Mr Khatami were well ahead.

Pro-Khatami candidates, led by the former interior minister, Abdollah Nouri, were expected to take 12 of the 15 city council seats, according to state-run radio. Of the remaining three seats, two were likely to be won by candidates fielded jointly by the moderates and conservatives, and the manager of the popular Pirouzi football club, who was clinging on to the final seat in Tehran.

State radio said about 25 million voters, or 65 per cent, turned out for the local polls, introduced by Mr Khatami to help to break the centralised grip of the conservative establishment. Thirty-nine million people, aged 15 and over, were eligible to vote on Friday.

Mostafa Tajzadeh, deputy interior minister and head of the electoral commission, said women and independent candidates were leading in many provincial towns, where counting was almost over. "There are a few towns or cities where women are not represented. In some cities they hold a majority or are even the front- runners. This is a giant step towards participation in the country's public administration," he said. In Tehran, two women candidates - Jamileh Kadivar and Fatemeh Jalaipour - are among the top 15.

In the holy city of Mashhad, the stronghold of the influential conservative cleric Ayatollah Abbas Vaez-Tabasi, the four front-runners are independents, followed by reformers and conservatives, according to Abrar newspaper.

"Independents broke the grip of main factions in the provinces. This is a giant step towards decentralisation of power," Mr Tajzadeh said. "The monopoly (on power) was rejected through the democratic process."

Reports from central Isfahan, the most politicised city after Tehran, showed reformers leading by a wide margin. Local journalists said pro- Khatami candidates were poised to capture seven of 11 seats on the city council, with the balance going to conservatives.