One-third of deputies quit Iran's Parliment

Posted in Broader Middle East , Iran , Asia | 03-Feb-04 | Author: Nazila Fathi| Source: The New York Times

TEHRAN More than a third of the members of the Iranian Parliament resigned Sunday in a protest of the disqualification of hundreds of reformist candidates for parliamentary elections this month.

The move came a day after President Mohammad Khatami announced that his negotiations with senior religious officials had failed.

The Guardian Council last month barred over 2,000 candidates, including 87 current members of Parliament. The council ignored a request by the Interior Ministry to postpone the election and an order by the supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to reinstate the candidacies of the Parliament members.

Angry deputies, who had held a three-week sit-in, stormed to the center of the Parliament floor on Sunday morning and handed their resignations one by one to the speaker after a letter was read aloud by a leading reformist, Mohsen Mirdamadi, with the reading broadcast live on radio.

The number of deputies who resigned reached 117. The move was unprecedented in Iran's hundred-year parliamentary history.

"We submit our resignation now," the letter said, adding that it seemed that totalitarians "planned to eliminate the republicanism of the system and turn its Islam into a Taliban version of Islam."

Among those who resigned were the deputy Parliament speaker, Behzad Nabavi, and Mohammad Reza Khatami, younger brother of the president. Several women among the deputies, including Elaheh Koulai and Fatimeh Haghighatjoo, also stepped down.

"An election whose result is forehand is treason to the rights and ideals of the nations,” said a deputy, Rajabali Mazrsoui.

The resignations need to be debated and approved by the Parliament.

According to the law, the Parliament can reject the resignations if they are sufficient in number to lead to the closure of the Parliament.

The deputies whose resignations were rejected, however, would have the right to refuse to participate in the Parliament.

Khatami's vice president for parliamentary affairs, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, was present at the session Sunday. He was one of a dozen cabinet ministers who stepped down two weeks ago in a protest of the Guardian Council's action.

His resignation, however, has not yet been accepted.

The deepening of the crisis on Sunday coincided with the 25th anniversary of the arrival of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran's 1979 revolution, from exile.

The country celebrates the anniversary of the victory of the revolution every year for 10 days starting Feb. 1.

Many of Khomeini's allies are among the reformist politicians who contend that their opponents have violated the tenets of Khomeini's government.

"From the day we held the referendum in 1979, Imam insisted on an Islamic Republic, not a word less and not a word more," said Mehdi Karroubi, the Parliament speaker, referring to Khomeini. "He repeated this until he died.”

"Now a couple of old men, whose number does not even reach six, want to run the country," he said on the floor Sunday, referring to the five clerics on the Guardian Council.

The council, whose six clerics are appointed by Khamenei and six Islamic lawyers by the judiciary, assumed the right to screen election candidates after the death of Khomeini in 1989.

"The only solution to this crisis is that the Guardian Council returns to the role that it had before Ayatollah Khomeini's death and just supervise the elections," said Ibrahim Yazdi, secretary general of the opposition party Freedom Movement, who had been an aide to Khomeini.

"Otherwise the resignations today show that the Islamic Republic is faced with major crises," he said.