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May 29, 7:09 AM EDT

Iran parliament chief retains post despite reformist gains

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran's long-serving parliament speaker will retain his post despite gains by reformists in elections held earlier this year, the official IRNA news agency reported Sunday.

Ali Larijani, a 59-year-old moderate conservative, was re-elected by 173 of the 281 lawmakers who attended Sunday's session. He defeated Mohammed Reza Aref, a reformist who is more open to expanding social and political freedoms.

Both the moderate conservatives and the reformists support President Hassan Rouhani and the landmark nuclear deal reached last year with world powers, but the reformists also want to ease restrictions on freedom of expression.

The election of Larijani marks an early victory for the moderate conservatives in the new parliament, which met for the first time on Saturday.

IRNA says Larijani, who has been speaker for the last eight years, was voted interim speaker on Sunday. He is expected to be re-elected once the credentials of new parliament members are verified.

Moderates and reformists who support Rouhani won the most seats in elections held earlier this year, marking a shift away from hard-liners who are wary of the nuclear deal and Rouhani's outreach to the West.

The structure of Iran's political system limits how much lawmakers will be able to accomplish even if the moderate-reformist camp manages to attract enough independents to vote with it. Dramatic shifts in Iranian domestic or foreign policy are unlikely.

While parliament has some oversight over public spending and the power to question government ministers, legislation it passes is subject to review by the Guardian Council, a constitutional watchdog. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, remains the top decision-maker in the country, and would have to support any major policy changes.

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