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Cablegate: Assessment of First Day Results of Iranian Majles Elections

VZCZCXRO6032
PP RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK
DE RUEHDIR #0013/01 0751856
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P R 151856Z MAR 08
FM IRAN RPO DUBAI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0241
INFO RUCNIRA/IRAN COLLECTIVE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC
RUEHDIR/IRAN RPO DUBAI 0234

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 IRAN RPO DUBAI 000013

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

LONDON FOR GAYLE, BERLIN FOR PAETZOLD
BAKU FOR HAUGEN, ISTANBUL FOR ODLUM

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: IR PGOV PREL PHUM
SUBJECT: ASSESSMENT OF FIRST DAY RESULTS OF IRANIAN MAJLES ELECTIONS

RPO DUBAI 00000013 001.2 OF 003


1.(SBU) Summary: Initial parliamentary election results in Iran
predictably show a predominance of conservative candidates
winning, but the results from Tehran - historically an important
political barometer - will not be released for a few days.
Iran's interior ministry announced that turnout in the March 14
Majles elections was close to 65%, higher than four years ago.
Iranian state-run Press TV reported that 49% of the count has
been completed and that conservatives have so far won 77% (108
seats) of the 141 seats that have been counted - without
differentiating between pro-Ahmadinejad conservatives, and the
president's conservative critics. A spokesman of the United
Front of Principle-ists, which has been associated in the press
with Ahmadinejad, but also includes some of his conservative
critics, told state-run news outlet IRNA that 70% of the newly
elected legislators are on the UFP list. Press TV reported that
so far reformists have won 33 seats (23%), and an unknown number
of independents have also won seats. AP is reporting that 115
of the 290 seats have been decided so far. Of those 115, AP
reports that pro-Ahmadinejad conservatives have won 42 seats
(36%), his conservative critics have 28 seats (24%), reformists
have 16 seats (14%), and independents have 29 seats (25%).

2.(SBU) Summary continued: Analysis in Iranian press noted that
because the votes in the provinces center more around local
issues than national politics, only the results of the big
cities, especially the 30 seats in the capital Tehran, will
clarify political trends in parliament. In the only reported
result so far of the concurrently-held by-elections for the
Assembly of Experts, Hashem Hashemzadeh-Harisi was re-elected in
the East Azerbaijan constituency. Reformist groups have already
suggested there were some "electoral irregularities" and a
reformist website charged that Basij forces at polling stations
were intimidating voters, but no reports have been seen so far
of any violence. Analysts see the Supreme Leader and the
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as the big winners in
these elections. While there are reportedly several political
factions within the IRGC, the group as a whole is seen as Iran's
most dedicated supporters of the revolution and the Supreme
Leader. End summary.

Government reports high turnout
---------------------------------------

3.(U) "Around 65 percent of the electorate took part in the
elections, which is more than the last election," said
Habibollah Hassan Khanlou, the secretary of the interior
ministry's election office. The 2004 Majles elections saw a
turnout of 51%. Nearly 44 million Iranians were eligible to
vote in these elections. (Note: Iran's voting age was raised
last year from 15 to 18. Endnote.) Voter participation is
important to the government of Iran because they declare high
turnout to be an indication of the legitimacy of the Islamic
Republican system. Interior Minister Purmohammadi even directly
connected a high voter turnout with public support for the
government's nuclear policy, saying that the "massive turnout"
at the polls was Iran's response to the newest UNSC resolution
against Iran.

4.(SBU) Numerous senior government officials made statements in
the days before the election encouraging the public to vote to
thwart the plans of Iran's "enemies." Although the reform
candidates were heavily vetted out of the competition, reform
leaders such as former president Khatami and former Majles
speaker Karrubi nonetheless encouraged reformers and their
supporters to turn out at the polls. A limited number of
foreign press outlets were allowed to cover the Majles elections
from inside the country, although it was not clear whether their
access was limited to Tehran. International press outlets
reported apparently low voter turnout early on election day, and
some reported that turnout increased later in the day. Polls in
Iran were kept open an additional five hours, closing at 11 pm
local time. At the out-of-country polling station in the
Iranian consulate in Dubai, there were no crowds visible during
the day, although the consulate may not have been the only
polling station in Dubai.

Partial results in, but not for Tehran
-------------------------------------------

5.(U) Partial results from some of Iran's 30 provinces have
already been received, although no results for the crucial
Tehran constituency have been reported yet. Interior Minister
Purmohammadi initially said that the final nationwide results
would be reported by March 20 at the latest but was subsequently
quoted in different sources saying that results would be

RPO DUBAI 00000013 002.2 OF 003


released within 3-4 days or conversely, within 24 hours.
Authorities announced March 15 that runoff elections would be
necessary in 17 constituencies, without noting when the runoffs
would take place.

6. (U) Iranian state-run press reported March 15 that 49% of the
count has been completed and that conservatives have so far won
77% of the 141 (out of a total 290) seats that have been
counted. These reports do not differentiate between
pro-Ahmadinejad conservatives, and the president's conservative
critics, the so-called United Front of Principle-ists (UFP) and
Broad and Popular Coalition of Principle-ists (BPCP)
respectively . According to state-run English-language news
outlet Press TV, 141 seats have already been decided, and
conservatives gained 108 of those seats (77%), without
differentiating between the different principle-ist factions.
Reformists won 33 seats so far (23%), and an unknown number of
independents won seats, according to Press TV.

7. (SBU) The most recent AP story reported that 115 seats had
been decided so far, and of those 115, pro-Ahmadinejad
conservatives won 42 seats (36%), his conservative critics have
28 seats (24%), reformists have 16 seats (14%), and independents
have 29 seats (25%). (Comment: If this trend continues of such
a sizeable independent representation, the political leanings of
this independent group could have an important impact on the
Majles. End comment) According to state-run news outlet Al
Alam, some politicians said their informal exit polls suggested
the UFP, the most pro-government group of candidates, was doing
well in Tehran, where conservatives hold 26 of the capital's
seats in the outgoing assembly. UFP secretary Shahabeddin Sadr
told state-run news outlet IRNA March 15, "The names announced
by the Interior Ministry show that 70 percent of the newly
elected legislators are on our list of candidates." A BPCP
leader, Ali Larijani, reportedly won more that 75% of the vote
for the seat he was contesting in Qom, according to Fars News.
Fars News commented that considering his landslide, it remains
to be seen whether Larijani would replace as new parliament
speaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, head of the conservative faction
who ran for Tehran where results have yet to be announced.
According to Iranian press, another conservative critic of
Ahmadinejad, Majles National Security and Foreign Policy
commission head Alaeddin Boroujerdi, was re-elected. Analysis
in Iranian press noted that because the votes in the provinces
center more around local issues than national politics, only the
results of the big cities, especially the 30 seats in the
capital Tehran, will clarify political trends in parliament.

8.(U) In comments on the eve of the elections, Supreme Leader
Khamenei was seen as encouraging people to vote for
conservatives (also called principle-ists), although it was not
clear from his comments whether he was referring to
pro-Ahmadinejad candidates or conservatives writ-large.
Khamenei enjoined the Iranian public to vote for "suitable
people, who support people's rights and who are committed and
devoted to Islamic foundations and values."

Reformists make some allegations of "electoral irregularities"
--------------------------------------------- -----------------
9. (U) Police and Basij forces were reportedly present at
polling stations, with young government supporters reportedly
urging the public to vote for conservatives, according to AP.
According to AFP, the leader of one of the two main reformist
camps, National Trust Party head Mehdi Karrubi told reporters at
the Interior Ministry, "There are concerns regarding some
irregularities by willful people to do something with the ballot
boxes." Reformist former interior minister Abdolvahed
Musavi-Lari reportedly sent a letter to Guardian Council head
Ayatollah Jannati complaining of electoral irregularities and
alleged fraud, according to western news outlet ADNKronos. A
reformist electoral site, Baharestan, reportedly alleged that
Basij forces were intimidating voters in areas south of Tehran.
According to Resalat newspaper, Guardian Council head Ayatollah
Jannati said there would be no fraud in vote-counting but there
have been no specific reports of government response to the
claims of interference in polling. Reformers reportedly
denounced a decision by the Interior Ministry to announce the
election results only after the vote tally was final. Results
had always been announced as they were tallied in the past while
counting continued. "We are hearing various reports of
irregularities in favor of the government," said Abdullah
Nasseri, a spokesman for reformers, adding that the decision to
announce the results after the final count created further
concerns. However, according to Press TV, Hossein Mar'ashi, the
head of a reformist coalition electoral headquarters told Fars,

RPO DUBAI 00000013 003.2 OF 003


"We are sure that the election was free and fair. We also
reject US and British news agencies' claim that the reformists
have plan to withdraw. It's a mere lie."

10. (U) ADNKronos reported that two Majles candidates were
disqualified minutes before polls opened on Friday morning.
Azeri candidate Jafar Fathalizadeh--a cleric--was reportedly
accused of spreading "ethnic hatred" and "inciting people to
clash with police during the campaign" and charged with
"endangering national security" by the special court for the
clergy. In addition, reformist Mohammad Reza Purebrahimi was
reportedly prevented from running for a Majles seat in Kerman,
western Iran. No reason was given, although some Kerman
residents reportedly speculated that he was disqualified because
he was likely to win against his conservative opponent.

Assembly of Experts
-------------------------
11.(SBU) In the only reported result so far of the
concurrently-held by-elections for the Assembly of Experts, the
body that supervises and selects the Supreme Leader, Hashem
Hashemzadeh-Harisi was re-elected in the East Azerbaijan
constituency.

Who is the big winner?
---------------------------
12.(SBU)Comment: Many analysts and observers assert that the
big winner in these Majles elections is Supreme Leader Khamenei.
The fissures that clearly emerged within conservative ranks do
not hurt the Supreme Leader; in contrast, they lessen the risk
of any one group or person amassing enough power and influence
to rival him. Ultimately, whichever conservative group claims
dominance in these elections will only be able to exercise power
with the approval of the Supreme Leader. Criticism of the
president's policies will likely increase from the 8th Majles,
given that even the UPF lists contains critics of Ahmadinejad,
such as Deputy Speaker Bahonar.

13.(SBU) Comment continued: The other clear winner is the IRGC,
which has continuously expanded its presence in Iranian politics
over the past four years. While we don't have exact numbers, a
significant number of Majles candidates are reportedly former
IRGC members or have some affiliation with the IRGC.

14.(SBU) Comment continued: Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf
may emerge a winner, though not a parliamentary candidate,
depending on predominance of BPCF candidates. A leader of that
faction, a former IRGC officer, and current Tehran mayor,
Qalibaf is increasingly seen as the conservative figure most
likely to present a significant challenge to President
Ahmadinejad in next year's presidential elections. If the BPCF
does well and makes a name for itself in the next Majles
challenging the president, Qalibaf would be well placed to
challenge Ahmadinejad for the presidency in 2009. It is
noteworthy that an Ahmadinejad deputy just reportedly
established a news agency to critique the performance of the
Tehran municipality, a clear indication that Ahmadinejad sees a
threat from Qalibaf has also recently been attempting to raise
his international profile. The mayor paid an official visit to
Baghdad the week prior to President Ahmadinejad, in which he
pledged the resources of the Tehran municipality toward
rebuilding Baghdad. He also attended the World Economic Forum
in Davos, meeting with the likes of UK Foreign Secretary
Miliband. On the eve of the parliamentary elections, Qalibaf
gave an interview to major British newspaper The Times in which
he attempted to portray himself as more open to engagement with
the West. Without referring to Ahmadinejad by name, he said
that it was wrong to think that there was a "dominant" desire
for confrontation and conflict in Iran, adding: "I would like
the West to change its attitude to Iran and trust Iran and rest
assured that there's an attitude in Iran to advance issues
through dialogue."

15.(SBU) Comment continued: Reformists are looking to hang on
to, and ideally expand, their current 40 seats in the Majles.
However, after extensive vetting of reformist candidates,
reformers ran in only about half of the races nationwide.
Despite the high-profile politicking by Rafsanjani, Khatami, and
Karrubi on behalf of the reform movement in Iran, reformist
politicians seem unlikely to regain their control over the
government any time in the near future.
BURNS

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