By Samia Nakhoul
President Hassan Rouhani has won a resounding vote of support and his moderate allies have made a strong showing in high stakes elections that could speed Iran's post-sanctions opening to the world, according to early partial results.
Tens of millions thronged polling stations on Friday (local time) for a twin vote to the 290-seat parliament and the 88-member Assembly of Experts, which selects the country's highest authority, the supreme leader.
An initial tally of 1.5 million votes counted in Tehran - fewer than one-fifth of the capital's eligible voters - showed Rouhani and his pragmatic ally, ex-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, leading the race for the Assembly of Experts, according to Interior Ministry figures on Saturday.
Reformists and moderates also seemed set to make big gains against Islamic hardliners in parliament.
The twin poll was seen by analysts as a potential turning point for Iran, where nearly 60 percent of the 80 million population is under 30.
The elections were the first since a landmark nuclear deal last year that led to the removal of most of the sanctions that have damaged the economy over the past decade.
Supporters of Rouhani, who championed the nuclear deal, were pitted against hardliners close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni, who are deeply wary of detente with Western countries.
The conservative Guardian Council had restricted both races by disqualifying most reformist and many moderate candidates.
However, of the top contenders for Tehran's 16 Assembly of Experts seats, the partial count showed 13 were members of a list led by Rouhani and Rafsanjani, though some were consensus candidates also backed by hardliners.
The three most prominent hardliners received lesser scores: Ahmad Jannati was 10th, the assembly's current chairman Mohammad Yazdi came 12th, and arch-conservative Mohammad-Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi was teetering on the edge in 16th place.
Preliminary results of the parliamentary poll carried by the semi-official Fars and Mehr News agencies indicated reformists and independents linked to them were leading so far against hardliners in several cities.
Even if reformists do not emerge with a majority in the legislature, dominated since 2004 by conservatives, analysts say they will secure a bigger presence than before.
A Reuters tally, based on official results published so far, suggested the pro-Rouhani camp and allied independents were leading in the parliamentary vote. Some moderate conservatives, including current speaker Ali Larijani, support Rouhani.
Of the first 61 seats declared, 18 went to hardliners, 17 to reformists, 12 to independents and 14 will be decided in run-offs in late April because no candidate won the required 25 percent of votes cast. Five of the initial winners were women.
Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli told state television results for Tehran's 30 parliament seats would be announced on Saturday evening.
Conservatives usually perform well in the countryside while young town-dwellers tend to prefer moderate candidates.