BEIRUT, Lebanon — With the bulk of seats decided in Iran's parliamentary elections, it appeared Sunday that the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has gained the majority he needed not just to bring the country's president to heel, but to eliminate the position entirely.
Khamenei has jousted repeatedly with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — as well as the two previous presidents — so he secured the majority at Ahmadinejad's expense.
The ayatollah will seek "to eliminate the post of president," said Aliakbar Mousavi Khoeini, a former reformist member of the Parliament now living in exile in the United States.
"If they can get that, they will not hold the next presidential election. Instead Parliament will chose a prime minister," he said. "Then Khamenei will essentially have everything he does approved and pushed through Parliament by his allies."
Khamenei suggested in October that Iran would be better off governed under a parliamentary system in which the prime minister was chosen from members of the 290-seat Parliament. Under Iran's electoral system, most reformist candidates were barred from running in Friday's election, essentially creating a contest between the two main hard-liner camps.
With 90 percent of the districts counted, Khamenei's allies had won some 75 percent of the 200 seats in those districts, according to Press TV, Iran's state-financed satellite channel, quoting the Interior Ministry. Full results are expected today or Tuesday, and runoff elections by next month.
The outcome, which could drastically reshape the domestic political landscape, is not expected to impact foreign policy. Khamenei has long pushed a confrontational stance toward the West.
Khamenei is not expected to try to eliminate the presidency until Ahmadinejad's second term expires in June 2013.
Dissident sentenced: A prominent Iranian human rights lawyer has been sentenced to 18 years in prison by a Tehran court. Abdolfattah Soltani, 58, was also banned from exercising his profession for 20 years and he will be sent to a remote prison. Soltani co-founded a human rights group with Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi.