Reformers decry Tehran election ruling
By Jonathan Lyons
TEHRAN, May 21 (Reuters) - Reformers have challenged final election
results released at the weekend by hardline clerical watchdogs, clouding
parliamentary polls once hailed as the freest and fairest in Iran 's history.
Supporters of moderate President Mohammad Khatami on Sunday denounced
a decision by a hardline oversight board to invalidate 25 percent of the
almost three million votes cast on February 18 for Tehran's 30 seats in
the new parliament.
The decision on Saturday by the Guardian Council to approve 28 new MPs
and set run-offs for the other two places ended a bitter stalemate over
the final results.
But it cast a shadow over President Khatami's drive for a civil society
under the rule of law.
"The reasoning of the Guardian Council was the worst and most worrying
in the past 21 years," pro-reform cleric Rasoul Montajabnia told the
daily Bahar, after being dropped from 27th place into a run-off contest
to be held later.
"In these elections they behaved in the worst possible manner towards
the votes and views of the people," Montajabnia said.
Besides the annulment of 726,000 votes, reformers also questioned the
rise of ex-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani - the top conservative in
the race - into 20th place. First results had Rafsanjani in 30th place.
The Guardian Council, dominated by hardline clerics, also promoted a
second conservative ahead of pro-Khatami rivals to claim the final first-round
WEST WELCOMED EARLY RESULTS
Nationwide, reformers swept aside hardline incumbents and captured a
solid plurality of seats in the expanded 290-member parliament, set to
convene on May 27.
Western governments celebrated the initial results, and the United States
launched a new diplomatic initiative pegged in large measure to the reformists'
However, the bitter struggle between the government and the Guardians
over the tally in the capital, the country's political centre of gravity,
has taken some of the lustre off that victory.
Deputy Interior Minister Mostafa Tajzadeh, in charge of the nationwide
polls, dismissed the Council's allegations of fraud and said the out-going
conservative parliament had tightened election rules to prevent irregularities.
"Taking into account all the laws passed in the months before the
elections, the possibility of mistakes in the sixth parliamentary polls
was a fraction of that in the past," Tajzadeh, an influential reformist,
He also questioned why preliminary results, approved shortly after the
vote by representatives of the Guardian Council, were later altered so
radically. And he blasted conservatives for the last-minute veto of a plan
to automate the vote count.
After a number of false starts, the Guardian Council approved the capital's
votes only after supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei intervened to break
Concerned that the new parliament might be forced to meet without the
influential Tehran delegation, he directed the Council to discard the contents
of disputed ballot boxes and base its final results on the remaining votes.
Throughout the controversy, the Guardian Council defended its decision
to order three separate recounts as consistent with its obligation to ensure
against voter fraud.
But pro-reform commentators and politicians say the exercise was designed
to boost the standing of the veteran Rafsanjani, battered badly in the
initial results, and to deprive several radical reformers of their rightful