It’s not good news long term. The more “centrist” the regime is, the more Iranians will tolerate it. An apocalyptic, sharia-babblin’ fundie in the top spot could be just what the doctor ordered for stirring up a popular uprising.

But we can’t afford a guy like that in charge right now. So enjoy the pie that’s currently in transit to Ahmadinejad’s face:

Centrist cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was running well ahead of his ultra-conservative rival Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi in elections for Iran’s Assembly of Experts, with half the votes counted, state television said…

Mesbah Yazdi, seen as the spiritual mentor to Ahmadinejad, was running in sixth place, according to the partial results.

Sixth place, but that’s probably good enough for a spot on the Assembly. If you don’t know who he is or why this is hugely important, read this.

More good news:

Winners [thus far] included Ayatollah Mohammad Momen, who defeated a prominent protege of firebrand Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, widely seen as the president’s spiritual mentor.

The victory by Momen in the religious center of Qom is likely to please those who fear Mesbah-Yazdi and his allies want to dominate the assembly and use it to impose their vision of government where authority comes from God not the people’s vote.

Turnout is reportedly higher than usual, which is another good sign. Reformist voters usually boycott the elections because the clerics purge most of their candidates from the rolls; it happened again this time, but a GOTV effort went forward anyway in hopes of sending a message to Ahmadinejad. It wasn’t only reformists who were purged, either — Mesbah-Yazdi’s nutbar son was torpedoed, too.

I’ll leave you with this, from December 2001, to put in perspective for you what constitutes “centrism” here.

Rafsanjani said that Muslims must surround colonialism and force them [the colonialists] to see whether Israel is beneficial to them or not. If one day, he said, the world of Islam comes to possess the weapons currently in Israel’s possession [meaning nuclear weapons] – on that day this method of global arrogance would come to a dead end. This, he said, is because the use of a nuclear bomb in Israel will leave nothing on the ground, whereas it will only damage the world of Islam.