Iran General NewsMost reformists appear purged from Iran ballot

Most reformists appear purged from Iran ballot

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New York Times: When voters go to the polls on March 14 to select members of Parliament, they may be able to choose only between conservative candidates and other conservative candidates, leaders of Iran’s main reform party said Wednesday. The New York Times

By MICHAEL SLACKMAN and NAZILA FATHI
Published: January 24, 2008

TEHRAN — When voters go to the polls on March 14 to select members of Parliament, they may be able to choose only between conservative candidates and other conservative candidates, leaders of Iran’s main reform party said Wednesday.

With more than 7,200 candidates registered to run for 290 seats in Parliament, officials with the party, the Islamic Participation Front, said it appeared that 70 percent of reformist candidates had been disqualified.

The decisions are not final and will not be completed until early March, but the early indications are that the religiously conservative forces in control of every branch of government will try to block a comeback by the reformists close to Mohammad Khatami, the former president.

“Such a large number of disqualifications is unprecedented,” said a statement by the reformist party posted on the Emruz Web site.

The out-of-power reformists had hoped that the coming election would be a referendum on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s management of the state. With inflation and unemployment high, and now a serious shortage of heating gas during a record cold winter, the races were seen as a way for reformists and their allies to gain a second chance at power in Iran. They had once controlled Parliament and the presidency.

But the president and his allies control the system of vetting candidates for access to the ballot. The first step is for local boards in each province, known as the Executive Councils, to approve a candidate for access to the ballot. The boards are appointed by regional governors who have been appointed by the president.

The next step is for the Guardian Council, a hard-line body of clerics close to the supreme leader, to approve or disqualify candidates. In past elections, the Guardian Council was where reform-minded candidates found themselves disqualified.

This time, however, candidates and party officials said that the mass disqualifications began at the regional boards.

“We have learned that the majority of the disqualifications were done by the Executive Councils, not the Guardian Council,” said Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a member of the party. “The Executive Councils are dominated by much more radical members than the Guardian Council,” he added.

Mr. Abtahi said most of the reformists’ better-known candidates, who could attract votes, had been disqualified.

Two members of Parliament were disqualified as well, including one of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s most outspoken critics, Akbar Alami, who lost most of his right hand in the war with Iraq and has already served two terms in Parliament.

“At age 52, I learned that according to the Executive Board I had allegations of noncommitment to Islam, lack of belief in the system of the Islamic Republic and lack of following the Constitution of the Islamic Republic,” Mr. Alami said

He and other disqualified candidates can now appeal to regional supervisory boards and then to the Guardian Council. In past years, to ease the tensions caused by disqualification, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, intervened, encouraging the reversal of some disqualifications. The key to the value of this next election, analysts said, will be whether the system shuts out those in the opposing camp, or lets them have access to the ballot.

A member of a conservative party, the Independent Fundamentalists, Saeed Abutaleb, said Wednesday that all the party’s candidates had been approved, the news agency ISNA reported. The party’s members have also been critical of the president’s economic performance.

The Interior Ministry said it had screened more than 7,000 candidates, but it was not clear how many had finally been approved to run. Rejected candidates can appeal to the regional supervisory boards until next Wednesday, or they can appeal directly to the Guardian Council.

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