Iran reinstates 200 election candidates

TEHRAN, Iran – Iran’s unelected and ultra-conservative Guardian Council, which earlier this month disqualified thousands of potential candidates in next month’s elections, reversed the disqualifications of 200 candidates on Jan. 20 and promised that more would be reinstated soon. But the move did not allay anger among reformists.

Reformist lawmakers vowed to continue daily sit-in protests at parliament until the Guardian Council reverses all the disqualifications.

The council’s decision earlier this month to bar more than 3,000 potential candidates from running – including 82 pro-reform lawmakers – sparked a political crisis in Iran, as reformists denounced what they called an attempt by hard-liners to regain control of parliament in the Feb. 20 elections.

The Islamic Participation Front of Iran, one of the groups opposed to the disqualifications, said that such measures “weaken the pillars of republicanism within the system and damage the country’s international credibility.” It said the lawmakers’ actions amounted to resistance against a “silent coup d’etat.”

The Front hailed the sit-in of the reformist elements in parliament, and urged them to take advantage of all legal means to reinstate the candidates and to defend free and fair elections.

The Tudeh Party of Iran also condemned the Guardian Council’s “blatant anti-popular acts,” and declared its support for the all the protest movements against them. It accused the ruling regime of trying to demoralize the electorate and of plotting to seize legislative power.

The Tudeh Party called for mass actions to frustrate such maneuvers, noting that “the protests and the sitting-in by a number of the members of parliament can only be effective when the political and social forces of the country, through coordinated and organized actions, broaden the protests against these illegal action across the society – not allowing the reactionary leaders to accomplish their sinister plans.” It urged “all popular and freedom-loving forces in Iran” and across the world “to join the protest and struggle against the conspiracies of reaction.”

The council’s Jan. 20 move to reinstate candidates came after Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, intervened to ease the crisis and ordered members to reconsider the disqualifications.

“So far, we have approved some 200 people who had been disqualified. This trend will continue,” said council member Abbas Kadkhodaei.

Kadkhodaei said in a statement on the council’s web site that the disqualifications were being re-examined on orders from Khamenei. The statement did not identify the reinstated candidates.

The Guardian Council originally said the disqualified candidates failed to meet legal criteria. Most of the protesting lawmakers maintain they were disqualified because of their criticism of the unelected hard-liners in open sessions of the parliament.

Among those disqualified were some of the top leaders in parliament of the reform movement, which seeks to lift political and social restrictions under Iran’s Islamic government. Conservative clerical elements, who control unelected bodies that hold ultimate sway in the country, have stymied attempts at reform.

Khamenei chooses the Guardian Council’s 12 members, and some reformist legislators have said the members would not have ordered the disqualifications without his approval. Protesting lawmakers were not moved by the council’s partial reversal and planned to continue sit-ins in the lobby of parliament.

“That they are reversing disqualifications is a positive step, but definitely not sufficient,” Rajabali Mazrouei, one of the lawmakers barred from running for re-election, told The Associated Press.

“We don’t think that a major breakthrough is developing. Either they have to reverse all politically motivated disqualifications or expect a boycott of the elections,” he said. On Jan. 18, reformist Deputy Interior Minister Morteza Moballegh, who is Iran’s chief of elections, warned he would not allow the legislative elections to proceed unless hard-liners retracted their mass disqualifications. The reformist lawmakers holding sit-ins also began dawn-to-dusk fasts.

President Mohammed Khatami has condemned the disqualifications and warned he might resign if they are not reversed.

The Feb. 20 elections are seen as a test for Iran’s reformers, whose popularity has waned because of their perceived failure to deliver on promises of liberalization. Over 46 million Iranians are eligible to vote, more than 7 million of them young people just reaching the minimum voting age of 15.