Conservative rivals of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were leading in the race for Parliament according to early election results today, an indication the Iranian president may face a more hostile house in the remaining 18 months of his second term in office.
The strong showing by loyalists of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in yesterday's parliamentary elections also reflected staunch support for Iran's theocracy and its firm stance in the nuclear standoff with the West.
Early returns today in the capital Tehran showed Khamenei loyalists have pulled ahead. Partial results from provincial towns also show conservative Ahmadinejad rivals were elected in many constituencies.
State media said the turnout was estimated at over 67% from among 48 million Iranians eligible to vote.
The conservatives' lead had been expected as yesterday's balloting for the 290-seat Parliament had boiled down to a popularity contest between two conservative camps, those opposing Ahmadinejad and those backing the president.
The elections were the first major vote since Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election in June 2009 and the mass protests and crackdowns that followed.
With the opposition crushed in the brutal crackdowns over the past three years and major reformist factions absent from polling stations, the outcome of the elections is unlikely to change Iran's course over major policies, including its controversial nuclear program, military and oil policies.
But a win by his rivals will weaken Ahmadinejad's camp ahead of the 2013 presidential race.