A nearly complete count of votes in Iran's parliamentary election puts conservative rivals of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad well in the lead, with the religious hardliners winning more than 75 percent of the seats.
Candidates loyal to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have grabbed a significant lead as ballot-counting neared completion in Iran's parliamentary elections, state media reported on Sunday.
With 90 percent of ballots counted, the pro-Khamenei hardliners were expected to occupy more than three-quarters of the 290 seats in the Majlis, or parliament, according to a list published by the interior ministry.
Khamenei candidates won in the Shi'ite Muslim holy cities of Qom and Mashhad and were leading in other major provincial cities, like Isfahan and Tabriz, where over 90 percent of voters backed Ahmadinejad in the 2009 parliamentary polls.
Even in rural areas, which had been strongholds of Ahmadinejad's, Khamenei loyalists appeared to have taken about 70 percent of the seats.
In the capital, Tehran, an unofffical tally indicated that Khamenei supporters had taken 19 of the 30 seats up for grabs.
Independents and women candidates fared relatively well in many provincial towns, where economic issues for many voters were the most immediate concern. Final election returns are expected by Monday.
The results are hard to compare to the outgoing parliament, since Khamenei and Ahmadinejad supporters were united in the 2008 elections, together winning about 70 percent of the seats.
Some of the rural election outcomes cannot be fully verified either, because the political stance of some of the candidates is unclear and could be claimed by any camp.
Opposition groups in Iran, already weakened by a string of arrests and other crackdowns, had called for a boycott of the vote, but government sources claimed that the turnout was high. despite the calls.
The Iranian economy, which is increasingly feeling the sting of Western sanctions targeting the oil and finance sectors, was one of the issues dominating the vote. The sanctions are a response to Iran's alleged ambitions to attain nuclear weapons. With the value of Iran's currency falling, the prices for staple goods, like food - much of which is imported - have shot upwards in recent months.