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Free and Fair Elections 'Impossible,' say Iran's Reformist Leaders - 2004-01-31

Iran's reformist leaders say the coming parliamentary election won't be legitimate because the hard-line Guardian Council has blocked thousands of reformist candidates from seeking office and has refused to consider postponing the vote.

According to Iran's state news agency, reformist President Mohammad Khatami said Saturday that "We have reached a dead-end with the Guardian Council."

Iran's interior minister in charge of elections, who is also a reformist, said organizing a free and fair election is now impossible and that he won't consider the coming election to be legitimate.

On Friday, the Guardian Council announced it had reinstated only a third of the 3,600 mostly reformist candidates it banned from running in the February 20 parliamentary election.

Many reformists believe that allowing the ban on some 2,000 of the 8,000 potential candidates is unfair. Most of those disqualified from the race are reformists, including more than 80 members of parliament.

The Guardian Council is an appointed oversight body of 12 Islamic clerics and lawyers that retains the power to block legislation and screen candidates for office.

Reformists, who have held the majority in Iran's parliament for several years, accuse the council of trying to transfer control of the 290-seat parliament to conservatives by preventing reformist candidates from running.

Dozens of top government officials have vowed to resign, and many reformists are urging a boycott of the elections.

In recent days, President Khatami had voiced optimism that the political crisis could be resolved. But now, the president is planning to hold an emergency meeting with members of his cabinet, to decide what to do next.