(AP) - Opponents of Iran's ultra-conservative president won nationwide elections for local councils, final results confirmed Thursday, an embarrassing outcome for the hardline leader that could force him to change his anti-Western tone and focus more on problems at home.
Moderate conservatives critical of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a majority of seats in last week's elections, followed by reformists who were suppressed by hard-liners two years ago, reports Trend.
The vote was widely seen as a sign of public discontent with Ahmadinejad's stances, which have fueled fights with the West and led Iran closer to U.N. sanctions.
Ahmadinejad's anti- Israel rhetoric and staunch stand on Iran's nuclear program are believed to have divided the conservatives who voted him into power. Some conservatives feel Ahmadinejad has spent too much time confronting the West and failed to deal with Iran's struggling economy.
Final results of Friday's local elections announced by the Interior Ministry show moderate conservatives opposed to Ahmadinejad have won a majority of the seats.
The voting also represented a partial comeback for reformists who favor closer ties with the West and further loosening of social and political restrictions under the Islamic government.
In Tehran, the capital, candidates supporting Mayor Mohammed Bagher Qalibaf, a moderate conservative, won seven of the 15 council seats. Reformists won four, while Ahmadinejad's allies won three. The last seat went to a wrestling champion who is considered an independent.
The election does not directly effect Ahmadinejad's administration and is not expected to bring immediate policy changes. The local councils handle community matters in cities and town across the country.
But it represented the first time the public has weighed in on Ahmadinejad's stormy presidency since he took office in June 2005. The results are expected to pressure him to change his populist anti-Western tone and focus more on Iran's high unemployment and economic problems at home.
Leading reformist Saeed Shariati said the results of the election was a "big no" to Ahmadinejad and his allies.
"People's vote means they don't support Ahmadinejad's policies and want change," Shariati, a leader of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, Iran's largest reformist party told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Similar anti-Ahmadinejad sentiment was visible in the final results of a parallel election held to select members of the Assembly of Experts, a conservative body of 86 senior clerics that monitors Iran's supreme leader and chooses his successor.
A big boost for moderates within the ruling Islamic establishment was visible in the big number of votes for former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, who lost to Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential election runoff.
Rafsanjani, who supports dialogue with the United States, received the most votes of any Tehran candidate to win re-election to the assembly. Also re-elected was Hasan Rowhani, Iran's former top nuclear negotiator whom Ahmadinejad repeatedly accused of making too many concessions to the Europeans.
Iran started having council elections after a reform introduced in 1999 by then President Mohammed Khatami.
More than 233,000 candidates ran for more than 113,000 council seats in cities, towns and villages across the vast nation on Friday. All municipal council candidates, including some 5,000 women, were vetted by parliamentary committees dominated by hard-liners. The committees disqualified about 10,000 nominees, reports said.