TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Early returns in Iran's parliamentary runoff elections Friday showed conservative rivals of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad leading in many constituencies in the vote that was billed as an endorsement of the country's controversial nuclear program.
The semiofficial Mehr news agency said the president's opponents appeared to be winning a majority of the 65 seats that were up for grabs in the second round. Official results are expected Saturday.
Ahmadinejad's conservative rivals already won an outright majority in the 290-member legislature after the first round of voting in March and the runoff was only expected to cement their victory.
Mehr said more than 5 million people voted Friday, including 1 million in the capital Tehran — the only place where Ahmadinejad supporters and opponents were in a neck-and-neck race, according to results from several polling stations.
The results suggest Ahmadinejad will face a more belligerent parliament in the remaining time of the second four-year term in office that ends August 2013.
Ahmadinejad and his wife, Aazam Farahi, cast their ballots in the afternoon without making any remarks to waiting reporters, an unusually glum appearance for the normally talkative president.
Ahmadinejad was voted in for a second term in 2009 in a hotly disputed election with the backing of the clerical establishment. But he has seen his political fortunes decline sharply after he was perceived to have defied Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in April 2011 and tried to expand the authority of the presidency.
The new parliament will begin its sessions in late May. It has no direct control over major policy matters like Iran's nuclear program, but it can influence the selection of Ahmadinejad's successor and other top officials and give backing to the policies of Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters.
Iranian leaders have showcased the high voter turnout — officially, 64 percent in the first round — as a sign of trust in the clerical-led system and rejection of Western pressure over the nuclear issue.