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Iran's Guardian Council Rejects Parliament's New Election Laws - 2004-01-26

Iran's conservative Guardian Council has vetoed a bill that would have restricted the council's ability to ban candidates from running in next month's election. The latest move is likely to further escalate the political crisis between reformists and conservatives in Iran.

The 12-member group of Islamic clerics and jurists refused the proposed change to electoral law late Sunday, shortly after parliament approved it.

During an emergency session Sunday, parliament moved to restrict the Guardian Council's powers by making it illegal to ban any candidate who had been previously approved to run for office, and to make it impossible for the hard-line watchdog group to blacklist candidates without solid legal justification.

The Guardian Council said the bill contravened Islamic law and the Iranian constitution.

Even though reformists hold the majority of seats in Iran's parliament, the Guardian Council retains the power to veto legislation and screen candidates for office.

Earlier this month, the Guardian Council disqualified more than 3,000 mostly reformist candidates from running in Iran's February 20 parliamentary election. More than 80 of those banned are current members of parliament.

Several dozen top government officials have threatened to resign, and many reformists say they will boycott the elections if the massive ban is allowed to go through.

The Guardian Council has since reinstated a few hundred of the banned candidates, after Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ordered the council to review its decision.

The council has until January 30 to complete its review process.