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Iran's Parliament Votes to Change Electoral Law - 2004-01-25

Iran's parliament has voted to change an electoral law to make it easier for candidates to run for office. But for the new standards to take effect, they must be ratified by the conservative Guardian Council, the group that moved to ban thousands of mostly reformist candidates from next month's election.

During an emergency session, the Iranian parliament moved to prohibit the Islamic hard-line Guardian Council from disqualifying candidates who have been allowed to run in prior elections unless there is strong legal justification.

The parliament categorized as the bill as triple urgent, a designation used only when the country is in serious political danger, and one that has not been employed since Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979.

By passing the bill, Iran's reformist-dominated parliament is seeking to reduce the power held by conservatives in the Iranian government.

The measure specifically strikes back at the Guardian Council for preventing 80 members of parliament from seeking re-election, as well as disqualifying thousands of other, mostly reformist, candidates from Iran's February 20 poll.

A political analyst and columnist at Egypt's Al-Ahram newspaper, Fahmy Howeidy, says the parliament's move sends a clear message to the Guardian Council that it has extended the realm of its constitutional powers.

"This means that they are challenging the Guardian Council," he said. "The Guardian Council went beyond the laws because the constitution said this Guardian Council, they should take care of the election. They do not have the right to ban any member. According to the constitution they should make sure that the voting went in a fair way, no one violated the law. The constitution did not give them the right to ban any member."

The person who has the final say on all state matters is Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The ayatollah has already intervened once in the political crisis, which is entering its third week, by ordering the Guardian Council to complete a thorough review of all the 3,600 candidates it banned.

The council pledged to obey the ayatollah, but it has reversed only a couple of hundred cases.

Further clashes between the Guardian Council and reformists are expected in the coming days, because for the parliament's latest bill to become law, it must be approved by the Guardian Council.

Dozens of top government officials have threatened to resign unless the council overturns the massive bans.

The Guardian Council has said it would complete its review process by January 30.