No free election in Iran…

From the Financial Times:

Iran reformists’ electoral hopes dashed

By Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran

Published: February 6 2008 

Iran’s reformists say they may be unable to compete for more than 10 per cent of seats in the forthcoming parliamentary elections because of the mass disqualification their candidates.Over 2,400 nominees, most of them reformists, have been barred from running for the 290 parliamentary seats that come up for election on March 14.

A grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the 1979 revolution, was also among those rejected, on the grounds of a lack of loyalty to Islam and the constitution.

Mohammad-Reza Aref, a former first vice-president, who was supposed to head the list of the main reformists’ coalition, withdrew on Wednesday in protest at the disqualifications, even though he was one of the few senior reformists who had passed the vetting procedure.

The interior ministry last month disqualified most reformist candidates in the first round. The Guardian Council, the constitutional watchdog, this week upheld the government decision and barred more nominees.

Disqualified candidates can appeal, but it is doubtful that many will be de-barred. This process, which can continue until early March, has kept reformists in limbo and unable to make any plans.

Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former deputy interior minister, one of those disqualified for being against Islam and constitution, said reformist were reviewing their choices , one of which was not to run even in the remaining constituencies.

“We have been left with the ablity to contest maybe 10 per cent of Majlis seats, he said. “We don’t want to boycott the election but how can we run without candidates?”

Another reformist party, Etemad-e Melli (national trust) which is headed by former parliamentary speaker, Mehdi Karroubi, and is not part of the coalition, has been left with 36 out of its 260 candidates.

Those reformist candidates that have passed the test are mostly relatively unknown, with only a few prominent figures remaining who have a good chance of winning.

The mass disqualifications have guaranteed that conservatives will retain their absolute majority in the next parliament, which they won four years ago following disqualifications on a similar scale.

Mr Karroubi and two former presidents, Mr Khatami and Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani held an emergency meeting recently in which they decided to appeal to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last say in all state affairs, to intervene.

All three reportedly had separate meetings with Ayatollah Khamenei, but the outcome has not been disclosed to the media.

“The result only seems to be more disqualifications,” said one despairing reformist.

The tripartite lobbying team has urged reformists not to boycott the election but to compete wherever they can.

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