BY ALI AKBAR DAREINI AND BRIAN MURPHY,Â The Associated Press
Tehran, Iran â€¢ Conservative rivals of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appeared on course Saturday to gain firm control of parliament after elections that could embolden Iranâ€™s nuclear defiance and give the ruling clerics a clear path to ensure a loyalist succeeds Ahmadinejad next year.
Although Iranâ€™s 290-seat parliament has limited sway over key affairs â€” including military and nuclear policies â€” the elections highlight the political narratives inside the country since Ahmadinejadâ€™s disputed re-election in 2009 and sets the possible tone for his final 18 months in office.
Reformists were virtually absent from the ballot, showing the crushing force of crackdowns on the opposition. Instead, Fridayâ€™s elections became a referendum on Ahmadinejadâ€™s political stature after he tried to challenge the near-total authority of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to decide critical government policies such as intelligence and foreign affairs.
The apparent setbacks for Ahmadinejadâ€™s backers, according to early results, could signal a decisive blow in the internal political conflicts and give hard-liners an even stronger voice in Iranâ€™s showdowns over its nuclear program.
The results also greatly reduce Ahmadinejadâ€™s leverage to have a protege clear the ruling clericsâ€™ election vetting process and become a candidate to succeed him in mid-2013. It now seems likely that only staunch Khamenei loyalists could be in the running.
“It appears that the era of â€˜Ahmadinejadismâ€™ in Iranâ€™s political history is gradually coming to an end,” said prominent Tehran-based political analyst Davoud Hermidas Bavand.
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