Ramin Mostaghim ?and Shashank Bengali
Los Angeles Times

TEHRAN: Moderates were poised for a strong showing as votes were counted Saturday in Iranian parliamentary elections that served as a referendum on the nuclear deal Iran struck with six world powers last year.

Supporters of the deal and of President Hassan Rouhani were expected to pick up more seats in the 290-seat parliament. That could allow Rouhani to pursue further rapprochement with the West, implement some domestic reforms and attract more foreign investment — aims that had been thwarted by conservative hard-liners in the previous parliament.

While none of the several competing factions were likely to gain a majority, anti-Western conservatives and their allies were likely to retain control of the legislature after thousands of moderate candidates were disqualified before the vote.

In preliminary results released late Saturday, two parliamentary candidates allied with Rouhani, Mohammad Reza Aref and Ali Motahari, garnered the most votes in the Tehran constituency, the country’s largest.

Rouhani thanked the people of Iran in a statement and said, “Whatever the results, the reputation of the Islamic Republic of Iran has been enhanced.”

Voters also were selecting the 88-member Assembly of Experts, which chooses the country’s clerical supreme leader. In Iran’s hybrid political system, major decisions rest with that leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The results released by the Interior Ministry showed that Rouhani was running second in the race for the assembly in Tehran, behind an influential ally, former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Turnout in Friday’s election was 60 percent of nearly 55 million eligible voters, the Interior Ministry said, a high figure that analysts said would benefit moderates and reformists. Voting was extended for several hours in some polling places as people waited in long lines to cast ballots.

Two leaders of the opposition Green Movement who are under house arrest, Mir Hossain Mousavi and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, were supplied with ballot papers and allowed to vote Friday, according to Kalame, a website close to the movement.

The election was an important test for Rouhani, who was elected in 2013 to resolve the crisis over Iran’s disputed nuclear program, which had prompted harsh sanctions. The U.S. and other countries lifted the most severe sanctions after Iran complied with restrictions on its nuclear program, and although economic benefits have not yet trickled down to the average Iranian, the deal remains widely popular.