Iran prepares for decisive vote
By Guy Dinmore in Shiraz
Financial Times, London
May 3, 2000
Iranians will vote on Friday in the second and final round of parliamentary
elections that will determine whether the conservatives, heavily defeated
by reformists in the first stage, can secure enough seats to block crucial
Under Iran's electoral system, the ballot will take place in 66 of the
290 constituencies where the leading candidate failed to win more than
25 per cent of the vote.
Reformists are complaining of foul play after the conservative-controlled
judiciary closed down nearly all the liberal newspapers that played a major
role in informing and galvanising voters in the first round of elections
held on February 18.
A low turnout on Friday could benefit conservative candidates who can
depend on a core of supporters to go to the polls.
A mortar attack on central Tehran on Monday night, widely blamed on
the Iraqi-based Militant Peoples Mujahideen Organisation (MKO), has fuelled
the tense atmosphere in the city. The MKO, which opposes clerical rule
in the Islamic Republic, has negligible support within Iran but its third
mortar attack in the capital this year could keep voters away from polling
The conservative opponents of President Mohammad Khatami lost their
majority in the Majlis, Iran's parliament, after the first ballot. However,
if they are able to secure a total of one-third of the seats at Friday's
election, it would allow them to stage walk-outs that would deprive the
assembly of the two-thirds quorum it needs to pass laws.
The outcome is likely to be close and has been complicated by the fact
that the hardline Council of Guardians, which supervises the polls, has
annulled the results of nine seats won by reformists in the first round
and not yet ratified the results for the 30 seats contested in Tehran.
The Council is still recounting votes in Tehran and says it has found
substantial irregularities. The controversy centres on Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani,
the former president and top conservative candidate, who according to the
initial count came 30th behind 29 reformists.
The Council has stated it will not nullify the results for all 30 seats
but could still cancel several more seats that would stay vacant until
by-elections to be held after five months. The next Majlis should have
had 290 seats but after the cancellation of results for nine seats already,
and possibly more to come in Tehran, it will for the time being have 281
at most. This means the conservatives are hoping to win a total of at least
94 seats. In the first round they secured just under 50 while reformists
won about 118 with independents taking some 20.
With Iran's party system still in its infancy, political affiliations
are uncertain and the conservatives could win the support of some independents
and a even a few of what are known in Iran as the "old left"
among the reformists.
A close result is expected in the southern city of Shiraz where Ahmad
Azimi, the candidate of the main reformist party, Mosharekat, faces Samed
Raja, a former mayor and "independent conservative" close to
In separate interviews Mr Azimi condemned the closure of the reformist
newspapers and the scant coverage given to the polls by state television,
under the control of hardliners. "Naturally turnout will be lower"
he said. Mr Raja defended the media crackdown and a recent ruling issued
by the powerful Expediency Council, headed by Mr Rafsanjani, which will
block parliament from supervising institutions controlled by hardliners,
including the armed forces, broadcast media and certain business conglomerates.
The new parliament should convene on May 27. But the recent counter-attack
by conservatives, including the jailing of leading reformist journalists
and Irans most prominent civil rights lawyer, has raised fears that a way
will be found to stop the new assembly from meeting at all.
President Khatami expressed those worries in a strong attack on the
conservatives in a speech marking Labour Day. "The people have elected
their candidates and they are right to count every moment before the next
Majlis starts," he said.