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Rout shocks Iran moderates

Tehran, March 3 (Reuters): Iran’s reformists today put a brave face on their worst electoral defeat for six years, arguing the low turnout which played a decisive factor in the local council vote was a warning to the entire Islamic system.

Friday’s local elections produced a shock reverse for the reformist camp as conservative candidates capitalised on mounting disillusionment with political infighting and the slow pace of reform to sweep the council seats in major cities.

Turnout was even lower than pessimistic forecasts, totalling only 49 per cent nationwide and sinking to 12 per cent in Tehran.

Hardline newspapers which serve as a mouthpiece for Iran’s religious Right hailed the electoral result as a triumph. “The people’s disaffection with them (reformists) left no doubt that these Western-influenced groups, which are indifferent to the people’s demands, have neared the sunset of their lives,” Kayhan said in an editorial.

But President Mohammad Khatami, whose 1997 election triumph was followed by resounding reformist victories in the 1999 local elections and a 2000 Parliament vote, said the high abstention was an “alarm bell for the future”.

If Iranians felt political leaders could not answer their aspirations it could “result in disappointment and disenchantment with the whole system,” he said in comments reported by state television today. That disenchantment could lead people “to move beyond the system, reforms and legal opposition,” said Mostafa Tajzadeh — a leading reformist who failed to win a seat on Tehran’s city council — in an apparent reference to possible civil disorder.

Analysts have long warned that Khatami’s non-confrontational approach and advocacy of gradual change to the religious system imposed in Iran after the 1979 Islamic revolution had been overtaken by demands for change from Iran’s disproportionately young population.

“Beneath the surface lies a long list of grievances...with the army of reformists who had been telling us that change and betterment are a cardinal rule in their political and economic school,” columnist Amin Sabooni wrote in an editorial carried in the English language Iran Daily.

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