AP: Iran’s hard-line constitutional watchdog said Wednesday it has reinstated more than 280 candidates for parliament races next month, but reformists said many remain banned and the move is not enough to ensure a fair election. The Associated Press
By ALI AKBAR DAREINI
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Iran’s hard-line constitutional watchdog said Wednesday it has reinstated more than 280 candidates for parliament races next month, but reformists said many remain banned and the move is not enough to ensure a fair election.
The Guardian Council’s reversal came amid growing criticism by both reformists and conservatives that a wide ban on eligible candidates would risk a low election turnout and undermine the polling.
The disqualification of reformist candidates removed a big challenge to hard-liners vying for parliament seats. The elections are seen as a key test of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s hold on power and a harbinger for the 2009 presidential election.
Those reinstated include the grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of Iran’s Islamic republic. Ali Eshraghi had been among hundreds excluded for allegedly not being loyal enough to the principles of the 1979 Islamic revolution and hard-line interpretations of Islamic rule.
But reformists said the reinstatements didn’t go far enough. “It doesn’t change anything. The reversal for reformists is too little to create the fewest conditions for a free and fair election,” said reformist leader Saeed Shariati.
Esmaeil Gerami Moghaddam, spokesman for the reformist National Confidence Party, said only 25 of those reinstated were considered reformers.
The Interior Ministry run by hard-liners close to Ahmadinejad last month disqualified more than 2,000 prospective candidates most of them reformers from running in the March 14 election. Out of an initial 7,200 prospective candidates registered, some 5,300 remain in the running including those reinstated, according to ministry figures.
Guardian Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei did not give a reason for reinstating the candidates but said more reversals are expected before the watchdog announces a final list of approved candidates March 5.
Criticism over the disqualifications was not just limited to reformists.
The hard-line newspaper Jomhuri-e-Eslami called the sweeping disqualification an “overindulgence” in the vetting process by the government and said reversing the ban would encourage higher turnout.
“Now is the turn for the Guardian Council to … reinstate those disqualified without any plausible reason,” the newspaper’s commentary said Wednesday. “Control of parliament by one faction is not to the interests of the country.”
Former presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami and other political heavyweights have been lobbying for a reversal. Khatami warned last week there would be no serious competition in the elections unless the Guardian Council reversed the ban.
Hardest hit in the vetting process were the Islamic Iran Participation Front, Iran’s largest reformist party, and the Islamic Revolution Mojahedeen Organization, another reformist faction. The IIPF said 190 out of 200 hopefuls registered as IIPF members were disqualified, effectively denying the party a place in the elections.
“In 90 percent of constituencies, IIPF will have no candidate at all because all hopefuls have been barred. That means, it will be an election where only conservatives will be running against no opponents,” said Shariati, a top IIPF leader.
The wide disqualification was reminiscent of 2004, when the Guardian Council barred thousands of reformists from running in that year’s parliament elections, allowing hard-liners to regain control of the 290-seat legislature. Reformists denounced the elections as a “historic fiasco.”
Key members of the council are hand-picked by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters. He largely supported the council in the 2004 dispute.