Rouhani backers make strides after nuke deal with U.S.

- John Bacon Contributi­ng: Oren Dorell

Candidates backing Iranian President Hassan Rouhani claimed all 30 parliament­ary seats in Tehran in a show of support for Iran’s deal with the United States and other world powers that substantia­lly ended crippling economic sanctions, results released Sunday show.

Rouhani, along with ally and former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, also led gains in the Assembly of Experts, a clerical council that will name a successor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, 76, who has held the post since 1989.

Iran’s PressTV said that after 90% of Friday’s vote was counted Sunday, hard-liner candidates appeared to be leading nationwide, although they did not appear close to a majority. At least two of the nation’s most prominent hard-liners lost their seats. One was Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, spiritual guide of a group that includes controvers­ial former president Mahmoud Ahmadineja­d, the BBC reported.

“No one is able to resist against the will of the majority of the people, and whoever the people don’t want has to step aside,” an ecstatic Rafsanjani tweeted.

Rouhani said building the economy will be the top priority for Iran’s leadership. “The people showed their power once again and gave more credibilit­y and strength to their elected government,” Rouhani said.

James Piazza, a political science professor at Penn State who specialize­s in Middle East affairs, said the most important developmen­t for the United States is the gain by moderates in the assembly.

The results “could mean that moderates who have a desire for a better relationsh­ip with the West will play a role in selecting the next supreme leader, which could really change the nature of politics within Iran and between Iran and the United States,” he said.

About 33 million of the nation’s 55 million eligible voters cast ballots. Final tallies are expected Monday or Tuesday.

This is the first vote in the country since Rouhani obtained the lifting of internatio­nal sanctions in return for limits to Iran’s nuclear program. The Obama administra­tion hoped the agreement would benefit Rouhani’s supporters in parliament and strengthen U.S.-Iranian relations.

Voters chose from 4,844 candidates, including about 500 women, competing for 290 seats in parliament.

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