Reformist and moderate politicians allied with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani won most seats in second round elections for almost a quarter of parliament’s spots, local media reported Saturday.
Preliminary results said that of the 68 seats being contested, 36 went to the pro-Rouhani List of Hope coalition and 17 to conservatives with just four constituencies yet to be declared. That would give reformists at least 131 seats in the new 290-member parliament, 15 shy of a majority but more than their rivals’ 124 MPs. Remaining seats went to independents who could hold the balance of power.
Tallies also showed 17 women were elected — eight more than at present and the highest female representation since the country’s revolution in 1979.
The second ballot to complete a new 290-seat parliament, or Majlis, took place after initial polls on February 26 did not produce clear winners in the 68 seats.
Polling stations opened at 8:00 a.m. Friday (0330 GMT) for the ballot in 21 provinces, but not Tehran. Reformists who backed the relatively moderate Rouhani made big gains in the first round following Iran’s implementation of a nuclear deal with world powers, which lifted sanctions blamed for long hobbling the economy.
Conservative MPs, including vehement opponents of the West who openly criticized the landmark agreement that reined in Iran’s atomic program, lost dozens of seats and were wiped out in Tehran where reformists won all 30 places in parliament.
However Friday’s voting — in which the top two candidates from the first round contest seats head to head — covers 55 smaller towns and cities where conservative support held up in February.
The split result in February — reformists won 95 seats and the conservatives 103 with nominally independent candidates and minorities sharing others — meant no faction won a majority.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged strong turnout and has said that Friday’s voting is no less important than the first round.
Mohammad Reza Aref, leader of the List of Hope, had set a target of at least another 40 seats in the 290-seat parliament. Gains for the president’s allies will make legislative reforms more likely.
Although the conservatives went backwards two months ago they have not changed tack, keeping up pressure over what they say is a silent agenda among reformists to give up the principles of the 1979 Islamic revolution.
“We hope that people in this round can have a parliament in line with the goals of Imam and the leadership by electing principlists,” said Gholam Ali Hadad Adel, head of the conservative coalition.
He was referring to revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his successor Khamenei, who is Iran’s ultimate authority with powers that far outweigh Rouhani, who was voted into office in a landslide in 2013.