| Iranian reformist MPs with speaker Mehdi Karroubi (bottom second from left) during a parliament session in Tehran. (AFP)
Tehran, Jan. 13 (Reuters): A dozen top Iranian government officials are ready to quit if powerful hardliners do not overturn a decision barring hundreds of reformists from running in parliamentary elections, reformist MPs said today.
But the Guardian Council, an unelected hardline constitutional watchdog which has barred around half of 8,200 aspiring candidates for the February 20 vote, said it would not bow to pressure. “The Guardian Council will act based on law and the record of its past performance proves it will not yield to any pressure and commotion,” the official Irna news agency quoted Guardian Council spokesman Mohammad Jahromi as saying.
The list of officials prepared to resign included four of Iran’s six vice-presidents, six ministers and two lower-ranking officials, the MPs said.
The threat raised the stakes in the struggle between hardliners and reformists and may also increase pressure on moderate President Mohammad Khatami to step down in solidarity with his colleagues, analysts said.
Reformist MP Mohsen Armin said legislators protesting the vetting of candidates had told the government officials to wait for the result of an appeals process before resigning.
“But if we feel that there is no legal solution then they will resign,” he said.
Asked about the possible resignations, government spokesman Abdollah Ramazanzadeh said: “I don’t know about it. It’s a decision for each individual minister.”
MP Armin said Khatami would have to resign if hardliners won back control of the reformist-dominated parliament.
“The pressure and confrontations would be so intense he would have no other choice but to resign and Khatami is very well aware of this,” he said. Until now Khatami has tended to avoid confrontation with hardliners who have blocked his reform attempts.
“Pressure is growing on Khatami to take a stand. But I doubt he will resign,” said political analyst Mahmoud Alinejad.
Around 80 reformist MPs took their sit-in protest at parliament into a third night this evening. The MPs said they would stay until the Guardian Council backed down.
The decision by the Guardian Council, a conservative constitutional watchdog comprising clerics and Islamic lawyers, underlined the relative impotence of Khatami’s government.
Unelected hardliners also control Iran’s judiciary, armed forces and state media.
Vice-President Mohammad Satarifar said the government may as well resign if it could not guarantee a fair election. State governors have also threatened to quit. Conservative MPs issued a statement describing the process of vetting candidates as a “legal, normal, and wise issue”.
“Disqualifying those who do not qualify to serve as the nation’s representatives is not a violation of people’s rights, it safeguards their rights,” they said.