Iran Reformists Push for Election Delay
February 02, 2004
Amir Paivar and Paul Hughes
TEHRAN -- Iran's reformists are pushing for a postponement of this month's parliamentary elections in a showdown with hardliners which has plunged the Islamic Republic into its worst political crisis in years.
After a day of high drama in parliament, where more than 120 reformist lawmakers handed in their resignations on Sunday over the vote row, there was a sense of tense anticipation on Monday.
Reformists are objecting to the decision by the Guardian Council -- an unelected constitutional oversight body run by religious hardliners -- to declare more than 2,000 would-be lawmakers unfit to stand in the February 20 election.
The council's move has led to international concern about the vote's legitimacy and overshadowed celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's return from exile to create an Islamic state.
More than 80 current deputies in the reformist-dominated 290-seat parliament are among those barred from the election.
In a statement issued late on Sunday, reformist lawmakers, dozens of whom have held a sit-in protest at parliament for the last three weeks, said that even if the Guardian Council now relented, the vote must be postponed.
"Even if all disqualified candidates are reinstated in the coming days, the election must be postponed so that all candidates have the time and opportunity to take part in a sound and fair competition," they said.
President Mohammad Khatami's reformist government has in recent days twice asked the Guardian Council -- a 12 member body of clerics and Islamic jurists -- to postpone the election.
Should the council reject the delay request, Khatami's government could refuse to organise the vote. Khatami could also allow provincial governors, who play a key role in administering elections, to carry out their threat to resign over the vote row.
Concerned about such tactics, hardliners have threatened to prosecute any official who hampers the vote by resigning.
A first request for a vote delay by the interior ministry was immediately rejected by the Guardian Council last week. But a second, lodged on Saturday, has not yet been answered.
Despite the heightened political tension, public interest in the dispute has so far been muted. Disillusioned by years of broken promises of reform, most Iranians have grown apathetic to the ongoing reformist-hardline power struggle.
An official at the Tehran governor's office told the ISNA students news agency a package containing some wiring, but no explosive, was found at parliament's entrance on Sunday after the assembly received an anonymous bomb threat by telephone.
At a cabinet meeting on Sunday, ministers endorsed a pledge made by Khatami on Saturday that his government would "hold only free and competitive elections," the IRNA news agency said.
With talks between appointed hardliners and elected reformers deadlocked, hopes for a solution are pinned on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who succeeded Khomeini in 1989.
Analysts say Khamenei, who has the last word on all state matters, may order many of the candidate bans overturned to avert a legitimacy crisis and heightened international criticism.
"It's the leader's time to step in now. Although he often leaves things until the very last moment," said one political analyst who declined to be identified.
Given the proximity of the election and the lengthy case-by-case process needed to confirm the resignations, analysts said the lawmakers' walkout was largely a tactical ploy. http://news.ft.com/servlet/ContentServer?pagename=FT.com/WireFeed/WireFeed&c=WireFeed&cid=1074160638583
"Should the council reject the delay request, Khatami's government could refuse to organise the vote. Khatami could also allow provincial governors, who play a key role in administering elections, to carry out their threat to resign over the vote row."
Khatami can't do anything with Khamenei's blessing.