Khamenei avoids furor over reform candidates

Posted in Iran , Broader Middle East , Asia | 13-Jan-04 | Author: Nazila Fathi| Source: The New York Times

TEHRAN - Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme religious leader, refused Monday to intervene and end the crisis between hard-line and reformist camps after a religious authority barred thousands of pro-reform candidates from running in parliamentary elections.

In a meeting with governor generals around the country, who had threatened to resign if the decision was not reversed in a week, Khamenei urged them to avoid tension and said that he would refrain from defending any group for the time being.

"Once all legal steps have been exhausted, if we arrive at a sensitive situation that demands a decision, there can be no doubt that I will intervene and give my opinion," he said, according to state-run television.

"We must respect the law and act according to it because a bad law is better than lawlessness and violation of the law. Both sides are saying that they have acted according to the law but we cannot accept these explanations. The law has defined responsibilities of each body."

The hard-line Guardian Council has rejected nearly half of the candidates who had registered to run for the 290-seat parliamentary elections scheduled for Feb. 20. Among them were nearly 80 members of Parliament including the brother of President Mohammad Khatami.

The Guardian Council has scrutinized candidates in past elections, but this is the first time it has eliminated such a large number of MP's who had won their seats with high number of votes.

In some cities, like Najaf-abad near the city of Isfahan, only one hard-line candidate has been allowed to run. In Koohdasth two hard-line candidates have been allowed to compete over one seat.

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, who was visiting Iran on Monday, said in a press conference with Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi that the EU was concerned over the process of democracy in Iran and that the result of elections could have an effect on Iran-EU relations.

"The fairness of an election is not only on the day of the election, the process should be fair," he said. "It is very difficult for me to explain to the Europeans how MP's who are representatives of people could not participate again in elections."

The MP's continued their sit-in at Parliament, which began Sunday, and warned that they will take their actions farther if the decision is not reversed.

"We had said that we will not participate in a show election and if our protest does not bear any results we will not be able to participate in the elections," said Ali Shakourirad, one of the MP's who was at the sit-in. "We want all candidates who have been eliminated illegally to be allowed to run in the elections."

He said that reformers had predicted that a large number of them would be barred. "But we participated in the elections because we consider elections to be the best channel for democracy. We do not want to be forced to pay a high price for democracy."

Members of Parliament with revolutionary backgrounds expressed their surprise over their rejections. Ali Hosseini told a daily newpaper that he was a dissident before the 1979 revolution and had spent time in jail with Khamenei for their struggles. Another said that he volunteered to fight in the war with Iraq at the age of 15 and served 8 years as a prisoner of war in Iraq.