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Iran's reformists prepare candidate list

By Guy Dinmore in Tehran
Financial Times
Jan. 18, 2000

Iran's loose coalition of 18 reformist factions supporting Mohammad Khatami, the moderate president, is close to agreeing a joint list of candidates for next month's parliamentary elections, when they hope to overturn the conservative-held majority.

Ahmed Bourghani, a prominent reformist candidate, on Monday denied reports that the May 23 Front, named after the day of Mr Khatami's unexpected landslide election victory in 1997, was in danger of falling apart over its choice of names.

Party lists will play an important part in the February 18 polls in informing voters of the political affiliations of candidates seeking a place in the 290-seat parliament.

"Differences within the May 23 Front are not so serious and will not lead to disintegration," he told the Financial Times.

Mr Bourghani said that the coalition had so far agreed on 25 candidates for the key 30-seat Tehran constituency and would not have problems drawing up common lists for the provinces.

But he admitted the coalition could not agree on whether to include Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president who is standing as an independent candidate but also heads the list of the main conservative coalition. Candidates may appear on more than one list, and Mr Rafsanjani could choose later which list to abide by.

Mr Bourghani said the two main factions within the reformist coalition - the Association of Combatant Clergy and the Islamic Iran Participation party - were against Mr Rafsanjani's candidacy.

Mr Rafsanjani is portraying himself as an independent moderate and a contender for the important post of speaker of parliament who could reduce tensions between the main camps. But his opponents are suspicious of his political leanings and level allegations of corruption against his family.

The Interior Ministry and the conservative-controlled Council of Guardians eliminated 758 of 6,860 would-be candidates on political and religious grounds, including several leading reformist and nationalist politicians.

The reformist camp, while appealing against the disqualifications, is relieved that the numbers were far lower than in the previous parliamentary elections. Mr Bourghani said it was a sign of the changing political climate in Iran, maintaining that the 12-member council did not dare to go against the popular will and was less under the sway of the conservative Islamic clerics than in the past. He also said the Intelligence Ministry, which blocked many candidates in the 1996 polls, was now more under the control of Mr Khatami's administration.

Mr Bourghani had expected disqualification himself because of his role in issuing licences for reformist newspapers in his post as deputy minister of Islamic guidance and culture last year.

Mohammad Reza Bahunar, speaking for one of the main hardline factions, told a press conference the conservatives were hopeful of maintaining their majority. But he conceded that no group might win outright if a significant number of independent figures were elected.


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