Nobel Laureate in Iran Joins Boycott of Elections

Posted in Iran , Democracy , Broader Middle East , Asia | 19-Feb-04 | Author: Nazila Fathi| Source: The New York Times

TEHRAN, Feb. 17 — Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Peace laureate, joined protesters on Tuesday in announcing that she would not vote in parliamentary elections on Friday in which more than 2,000 candidates were disqualified by the government.

"I cannot tell people to vote or not to vote, but I will not vote because I do not know any of the candidates who have been allowed to run," said Ms. Ebadi, a human rights lawyer. "I would have voted if I knew and trusted the candidates."

Her statement, just 48 hours before the elections, intensified the standoff that has been building between reformist supporters of President Mohammad Khatami and their hardline opponents since January, when a watchdog council rejected liberal candidates.

Nearly 130 deputies resigned in protest and the leading reform party is boycotting the elections. This week 679 candidates, whose qualifications had been approved, withdrew in protest as well.

On Tuesday, reformist members of Parliament broke a long-established taboo and wrote an open letter to the supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that criticized his policies.

"You lead a system in which legitimate freedoms and the rights of the people are being trampled on in the name of Islam," said the letter, which was distributed in Parliament.

"The organs under your authority have for four years humiliated the Parliament and its deputies by blocking legislations and have openly blocked the most basic right of the people: to choose and be chosen," it said.

The reference was to the Guardian Council, which disqualified over 2,000 candidates. The letter also implied that Mr. Khamenei, despite his public statements, approved the disqualifications.

Mr. Khamenei has issued an order saying the vote could not be delayed, and hardliners are counting on a low turnout in hopes that they can win a majority in the 290-seat Parliament by mobilizing their supporters.

In a statement released on Monday, the reformist president, Mr. Khatami, appealed to people to go to the polls "despite the unfairness of the election," the Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

He said that a low turnout could mean a minority gaining control of the country, which would not be in its interests.