Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Daily Star - Politics - Iran U-turn allows reformists to run

The Daily Star - Politics - Iran U-turn allows reformists to run: "Iran U-turn allows reformists to run
Threat of election boycott prompts volte face by hard-line Council of Guardians

Compiled by Daily Star staff
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
Iranian hard-liners agreed to allow two reformists to stand in next month's presidential election amid fears their disqualification could provoke a mass public boycott of the polls.

The U-turn by the Council of Guardians, a powerful political watchdog, came in response to a demand from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and warnings the 26-year-old Islamic regime was facing a crisis of legitimacy.

The head of the Council of Guardians, Ayatollah Ahmad Janati, was quoted as writing to Khamenei that "as you consider it desirable that all people in the country from different interests have the opportunity to take part, the competence of Mr. Moin and Mr. Mehr-Alizadeh is recognized."

Mustafa Moin was the candidate chosen by the main reformist party, the Islamic Iran Participation Front, and is seen as the only credible pro-reform figure trying to run for president on June 17.

Mohsen Mehr-Alizadeh is a vice president in incumbent reformist President Mohammad Khatami's Cabinet, and is running as an independent.

Their addition to the ballot sheet brings to eight the number of candidates approved to stand.

Khamenei's intervention put Moin in a difficult position. He has frequently criticized Khamenei's power to override the decisions of other state bodies and some of his supporters urged him not to run.

The other six candidates are powerful former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, four hard-liners - Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, Ali Larijani, Mahmoud Ahmadi Nejad and Mohsen Rezai - and the moderate former Parliament Speaker Mehdi Karoubi.

Rafsanjani has been promoting himself as a moderate and had been seen as the front-runner, although the scandal surrounding the initial blocking of Moin may now give the reformists a boost.

The Council of Guardians had announced their initial approved list on Sunday, immediately drawing claims it was carrying out a "coup d'Ε½tat" by limiting voter choice.

The European Union and Tehran's arch-enemy Washington also voiced their concern over the disqualifications.

In a statement carried by official media, Khamenei himself asserted that "people's participation in the elections will make the enemies disappointed," and called on the candidates "not to resort to animosity and keep the brotherly atmosphere."

Khatami also signaled that he feared political violence by calling on the police, the army, the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij militia to "abide by the country's laws and refrain from any type of moves that might be interpreted as interference in any phase of the election."

Concerns have mounted over a militarization of the regime - given that four out of the six candidates who were initially approved to stand are Revolutionary Guards veterans.

The eliminations revived

memories of tense February 2004 parliamentary elections when almost all reformist candidates were blocked from standing. The assembly is now controlled by hard-liners.

With voters in general frustrated by reforms and with hard-liners still holding onto most institutions - therefore limiting the power of a future president - the regime may still have a tough time getting people out to vote.

Iranian human rights lawyer and Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi said she would not be voting because of her objection to the entire candidate vetting procedure.

"I do not see these elections as free. It is not a free one because not all the candidates get approved and a number of them are disqualified. I will not take part in this elections," she told U.S.-funded Radio Farda.

"And as long as there is supervision [to select candidates], I will not take part in any elections," Radio Farda's Web site quoted Ebadi, currently on a tour of the U.S., as saying.

Public reaction to the crisis has so far been limited, although students at Tehran University held their first demonstration overnight Tuesday against the disqualifications.

Witnesses said some 300 students left their dormitories to take part in a protest march, shouting slogans against the blocking of Moin's candidacy, but they were stopped by police without incident. Official media said police had been ordered not to use force. The main pro-reform student group, the Office to Consolidate Unity, urged Moin not to accept his sudden qualification. - Reuters, AFP"