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Iran Preliminary Results: Moderates Doing Well Over Hard-Liners


Let's look carefully at the election results from Iran. When given a chance, it appears that Iranians voted for moderation on Friday. That is the headline here. Candidates described as moderate or moderate-conservative won most of the seats in Iran's Parliament. So-called hardline candidates who opposed Iran's recent nuclear deal with the West were thrown into the minority. But that headline may not mean exactly what it seems. Let's talk this through with Thomas Erdbrink, who is Tehran correspondent for The New York Times. Welcome back to the program.

THOMAS ERDBRINK: Thanks for having me, Steve.

INSKEEP: First, help me understand this. We're told moderates won over the weekend. But we'd previously been told that many people who wanted reform in Iran had been kept off the ballot entirely in these Parliamentary and other elections.

ERDBRINK: Well, that's actually absolutely true. And what that means is that those people calling for major change in this country are not participating in these elections. The people that are participating under the banner of reforming might have sympathies for the real original reformist agenda. It doesn't mean that Iran is now on the dawn of sweeping change.

INSKEEP: OK, so you're saying that people who wanted big change in Iran weren't even on the ballot. But the people who appear to be winning are those who are more - what's the word for them really, pragmatic, centrist, something else?

ERDBRINK: I guess that would cover it - pragmatic, centrist. It's always hard to label people here. There are people who are hardliners on certain issues but would be open to economic reforms. Does that make them a moderate? At the same time, they might be saying the hijab, the Islamic headscarf, is obligatory. And they might propose to have police controls to check women to do that. So these labels are very, very complicated. I guess the also message is Iranians have voiced their interest in change. They clearly want this. But the leaders they have chosen are not that prone to making radical changes.

INSKEEP: OK, so what does all of this mean for President Hassan Rouhani, the man who made the nuclear deal with outside powers in recent months?

ERDBRINK: Well, it does feel that the political faction that will support him at least on economical issues will gain in strength. So of course, the sanctions have been lifted in January. Again, Iran's president Rouhani has been propagating to open up the economy. This strong minority can help him in achieving that. At the same time, hardliners will try to oppose such changes. So it is definitely not some kind of blank check for President Rouhani.

INSKEEP: So if we're looking for change in Iran, it would be economic change, opening up the economy and not necessarily changes in the freedom of expression or the rules for women or anything else.

ERDBRINK: I think that laws have proven very hard to be altered here in the Islamic Republic of Iran since the revolution. And it will be quite a while before we see changes in that. But you're right; at the same time, the economy should open up. It's absolutely necessary. I'm here now in the ministry of interior, which really looks like it could use a complete overhaul. That's just the impression you get when you visit many Iranian government sites but also industrial sites. They need to get the economy going. That will be Mr. Rouhani's priority, and it will also be the priority of those who support him possibly in the future in Parliament.

INSKEEP: What do you mean the building you're in looks like it needs renovation?

ERDBRINK: Yeah, it needs quite a bit of renovation. I guess it's from 40 years ago. Part of it has been painted, but yeah, it's just symbolic for a lot of the state of the industry, government offices and so on. And so the whole country needs an overhaul. And, you know, President Rouhani should be the one who OKs that.

INSKEEP: Thomas, thanks very much. Always a pleasure talking with you.

ERDBRINK: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Thomas Erdbrink is a reporter for The New York Times in Tehran. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.