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Khatami's camp hopeful despite ban on candidates

Financial Times (London)
January 11, 2000

TEHRAN Iran's conservative-dominated Guardian Council was reported yesterday to have disqualified dozens of reformist candidates from taking part in next month's parliamentary elections on political and religious grounds.

But members of the loose coalition backing Mohammad Khatami, the moderate president, said far fewer of their members had been ruled out than feared, and they still hoped to overturn the conservative-held majority in the February 18 polls.

The Guardian Council, a body of six clerics and six legal experts, vets candidates for their adherence to Islamic principles and Iran's constitution as well as their acceptance of the absolute rule of the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The council was due to finish its deliberations on the 6,860 applicants seeking to contest the 290 seats in the new Majlis (parliament) last Friday.

It has made no public statement but reformist newspapers reported that more than 50 candidates had been rejected.

They included Abdollah Nouri, a cleric and former interior minister jailed in November; Ebrahim Yazdi, head of the nationalist-Islamist Iran Liberation Movement; and Abbas Abdi, famous for leading the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran in 1979 but now an outspoken advocate of reforms.

Hamidreza Jalaeipour, publisher of Asr-e-Azadegan, a reformist daily, said the council told him he was disqualified for a weak commitment to Islam and the Islamic republic and the principle of the absolute rule of the supreme leader. Under a new law, the council must explain in writing its reasons for rejecting each applicant, who can also appeal against the decis ion.

But Mr Jalaeipour told the Financial Times that, to reformists' surprise and compared with previous elections, the vetting appears to have been limited.

"All the reformists are happy, not angry. Khatami is happy because they expected more would be disqualified," he said, predicting that "conservative" forces would secure only a small minority in the crucial elections.

Faezeh Hashemi, a reformist MP seeking re-election, said the numbers of those disqualified were lower than reported.

"I know many things but cannot tell you," she told the FT when asked for her source of information. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Irans previous president and Ms Hashemi's father, is also standing as a candidate.

Ms Hashemi said the 18 groups making up the reformist or leftist coalition were still negotiating over a common list of candidates for the polls.

She dismissed speculation in the Iranian media that the hardliners would seek to stage a coup to block a reformist-dominated parliament.

Analysts point out that even if the conservative establishment loses its grip on parliament it will still hold important levers of power, including the security forces, the judiciary and large segments of the economy.


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