Iran Reformists to Fast In Attempt to Reverse Ballot Bans
January 16, 2004
The Associated Press
Dow Jones Newswires
TEHRAN -- Reformist lawmakers on the sixth day of a parliament sit-in vowed Friday to begin a fast in an attempt to force the reversal of the disqualification of more than 3,000 candidates from next month's election.
Mohammad Reza Khatami, a vice speaker of parliament who has been barred from the election, told a press conference inside parliament that reformist lawmakers would begin fasting Saturday.
"We are determined even more than before to resist illegal hard-line efforts to hold a sham election through mass disqualification of hopefuls," said Khatami, leader of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, Iran's largest reformist party, and a younger brother of President Mohammad Khatami.
"We are prepared to pay all costs of defending free elections," he said. "Without free elections, democracy is meaningless."
The Guardian Council, an unelected constitutional watchdog controlled by hard-liners, has disqualified thousands of the nearly 8,200 prospective candidates - including 80 sitting reformist lawmakers - for Feb. 20 legislative elections.
The move early this month caused outrage among reformists, and lawmakers have protested with sit-ins since Sunday.
The disqualifications were seen as an attempt to bolster hard-liners in the long-simmering power struggle with allies of President Khatami, who seek social and political reform.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei intervened Wednesday to cool down the developing political crisis and ordered the 12-member Guardian Council, appointed by him, to reconsider its disqualifications.
Reformers have welcomed Khamenei's intervention but say they are waiting to see how the council will interpret the order. Khamenei also told the council to "resist bullying tactics" by some lawmakers.
"We have seen no positive step by the council so far and there is no guarantee that there will be free elections. We will begin fasting as of Saturday to step up our campaign," Khatami said.
The protesting lawmakers said their sit-in will continue until all disqualified candidates are allowed to run in the upcoming polls.
"We are defending the basic right of all Iranians to choose and be chosen," said Meysam Saeidi, another reformist lawmaker disqualified from the election.
"This is the final battle for democracy in Iran where hard-liners seek to impose brazen dictatorship through sham elections. There is no way to give in," he said.
Khamenei, who holds ultimate say in Iran, is seen as the leader of hard-liners, but has reined them in on occasion in the past to prevent an overt clash with liberals.
He met council members Wednesday and told them that incumbent legislators, who already have been approved by the council for past elections, should be deemed qualified to run "unless it's proven otherwise."
For new candidates, he said, "logical and common qualification is sufficient, and there is no need for further investigation."
Iran's 27 provincial governors have vowed to resign by Monday unless disqualifications are reversed. Khatami's administration has indicated it may not even hold the elections if disqualifications aren't reversed.
Hard-liners, who control unelected bodies including the judiciary, have thwarted the president's reform plans for years.
The Feb. 20 elections are seen as a test for Iran's reformers, whose popularity has waned because of their perceived failure to deliver on promises of liberalization.
Reformists believe the ruling Islamic establishment needs to become more open and respect the demands of its overwhelmingly youthful population and accuse hard-liners of seeking to impose dictatorship in the name of Islam.
But hard-liners hope to prevent a parliament dominated by reformers, who have sought profound changes and support Western-style democracy, which the conservatives say is against the principles of the 1979 Islamic revolution. http://framehosting.dowjonesnews.com/sample/samplestory.asp?StoryID=2004011617170005&Take=1