Iran's Reformists Eye Elections Boycott

By ALI AKBAR DAREINI, AP

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - A showdown between Iran's hard-liners and liberals deepened Monday as reformist lawmakers barred from upcoming elections threatened to boycott the vote and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei promised to intervene if the crisis is not resolved soon.

For the second day in a row, legislators who were among those barred from the Feb. 20 elections held a sit-in protest in the parliament building. The hard-line Guardian Council disqualified more than 80 lawmakers, all reformists.

"We will continue our sit-in until politically motivated disqualifications are reversed," lawmaker Elaheh Koolaee told The Associated Press. "If it is not reversed, there will be no elections. There is no reason to participate in so-called elections where hard-line thinkers run without any rivals."

The Guardian Council, which comprises 12 members chosen by Khamenei, has disqualified more than 3,000 of the 8,200 people who filed papers to run for the parliament's 290 seats, lawmakers have said. State broadcast media controlled by hard-liners said the candidates were disqualified because they lacked "the necessary legal qualifications."

If they stand, the disqualifications will be an additional blow for the reformers. The reformists have lost popularity because of their perceived failure to deliver on promises of liberalization, and had hoped to get a boost from the elections.

The United States urged Iran's government to oppose any interference in the electoral process.

"We call upon the Iranian government to disavow attempts by the Guardian Council to shape the outcome of the February 20 parliamentary elections," State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said in Washington.

"We would note that a government's handling of the electoral process is one of the fundamental measurements of its credibility."

The European Union's foreign policy chief warned the elections would not be credible unless the disqualifications are reversed.

"The fairness of the elections is the process that leads to elections," said Javier Solana, who is visiting to discuss Iran's relations with Europe. It would be "difficult to explain (to the European parliament) how a lawmaker can't be a candidate."

Khamenei said Monday he would intervene if the dispute was not resolved, state television reported.

"At this stage, there are legal channels and everyone should abide by the law," Khamenei told provincial governors who threatened to resign unless the disqualifications are reversed.

President Mohammad Khatami has vowed to contest the disqualifications, saying there would be a "harsh reaction" if legal means failed to overturn them.

Mohsen Mirdamadi, a disqualified legislator who heads the parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said the Guardian Council's move would be challenged.

"Definitely, at least some disqualifications will be reversed, but it is difficult to say to what extent," Mirdamadi told AP after meeting Solana.

When the disqualifications became public Sunday, Mirdamadi said they amounted to a "bloodless coup" by conservatives.

Hard-liners have long used their control of bodies such as the judiciary and the Guardian Council, which vets legislation, to stymie reforms introduced by Khatami and legislators who support him. In February 2000 elections, the conservatives lost control of the parliament for the first time since the 1979 revolution.

Khatami and his allies have tried to liberalize Iran from the strict political and social controls imposed by the clerical establishment. The clerics see such changes as undermining the principles of the Islamic revolution.

Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said the government had not decided what to do.

"The top leaders are thinking of a solution so that, God willing, the rights of nobody will be ignored and a crisis does not develop," he said.

The disqualified legislators include Mohammad Reza Khatami, the younger brother of the president, and Behzad Nabavi. Both are deputy speakers of parliament; Mohammad Reza Khatami leads the Islamic Iran Participation Front, the largest reformist party.

Koolaee and Fatemeh Haqiqatjou, also disqualified, are prominent female legislators who have fought for women's rights.

01/12/04 19:33 EST