| Iranian President Mohammad Khatami (centre) and Speaker Mehdi Karroubi (in white turban) with reformist MPs at the parliament in Tehran. (AFP)
Tehran, Jan. 14 (Reuters): Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei today called on a hardline body to review the cases of thousands of candidates barred from standing for parliamentary elections, state television reported.
Khamenei, whose intervention could defuse a political standoff that has prompted dozens of top reformist officials to threaten to resign, also said incumbent deputies should not have been disqualified unless there was solid proof against them.
“There are legal methods and the Guardian Council has enough time to review the cases carefully... to prevent the violation of anyone’s rights,” state television quoted Khamenei as saying in a meeting with Guardian Council members.
“Those who have been qualified before should be qualified (now) unless the contrary can be proved,” he added.
The Guardian Council, a hardline constitutional watchdog under the direct control of Khamenei, has disqualified nearly half of 8,200 candidates for the February 20 vote.
The vast majority of those vetoed are reformist allies of President Mohammad Khatami, including more than 80 of parliament’s current 290 lawmakers.
Around 80 MPs today rebuffed an appeal by Khatami to suspend a four-day-old sit-in protest at parliament. “It’s natural for us to continue because we haven’t achieved our demands yet,” Mohammad Reza Khatami, younger brother of the President and deputy speaker of parliament, said.
The decision to extend the protest was a further blow to the weakened authority of Khatami, who is also under pressure from cabinet colleagues and state governors to adopt a firmer stance — and to resign, with them, if the bans are not rescinded.
Another MP said: “Khatami didn’t have a winning card to offer us. He just wanted us to end the sit-in and see what happens next, which wasn't acceptable to us.” He said deputies did not believe Khatami would resign over the crisis, and might urge him to postpone the election if the Guardian Council did not back down.
Even close allies of Khatami, who swept to office in 1997 promising to promote civil rights and the rule of law, criticise him for failing to stand up to hardliners in the judiciary and Guardian Council who have blocked most of his reforms.
Hardliners fear reformist causes such as a free press, free speech and women’s rights will undermine the system of clerical rule in place since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution.
Reformers say they do not want to dismantle clerical rule — only to place more emphasis on the law and citizens’ rights.
But many ordinary Iranians have already lost faith in Khatami’s ability to overcome conservative resistance, and the public have shown no sign of rallying to the reformists’ cause.
Iran’s most important pro-reform student body, the Office to Consolidate Unity (OCU), today said the hardline move to bar thousands of candidates proved “the upcoming vote is an appointment disguised as an election.” In a statement faxed to Reuters the OCU warned protesting reformists that hardliners may try to split them by reinstating some of their candidacies while barring others from the race. It said the political crisis was the “last golden opportunity for reformists and if they miss that opportunity... the public’s minimal trust in the reform movement would fade away.”
Analysts say the disqualification of candidates was a crude attempt by hardliners to prevent a repeat of the 2000 election.