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Pro-Reform Party in Iran to Boycott Upcoming Elections - 2004-02-02

Iran's largest pro-reform party has said it will boycott the coming parliamentary elections over the disqualification of thousands of mostly reformist candidates. More than a third of Iran's parliament has resigned. Many of Iran's reformists are calling for the postponement of the February 20 elections.

The brother of Iran's president said Monday that his party decided by a large majority not to participate in the election.

Mohammad Reza Khatami, who is also the deputy speaker of parliament, heads the Islamic Iran Participation Front. Many of its members were banned from running in the February 20 parliamentary election, when Iran's conservative Guardian Council disqualified thousands of mostly reformist candidates last month.

The party leader said he has no hope that free elections can be held as scheduled. Mr. Khatami added that, if the election is postponed until a later date, his party may change its mind about the boycott.

Other reformists in Iran have also called for the election to be postponed. Following a cabinet meeting late Sunday, Iran's ministers vowed to support only free and competitive elections, and said they back a call by the interior minister to delay the vote.

The Guardian Council denied a previous request to postpone the election. The council is an appointed group of 12 Islamic clerics and jurists wielding significant constitutional powers.

The Guardian Council's ban a large portion of the eight thousand candidates from Iran's coming parliamentary election provoked a political crisis, just as Iran marks the 25th anniversary of Islamic Revolution.

On Friday, the Guardian Council reinstated just over a thousand of the previously barred candidates.

But that did not go far enough for more than a hundred lawmakers who handed in letters of resignation Sunday. Many accused Iran's Islamic authorities of ignoring the will of the people and trying to create a religious dictatorship.

According to Iran's state news agency, the head of Tehran's electoral supervisory board warned on Sunday that the lawmakers who have resigned may be subject to prosecution on grounds of interfering with the elections.

Iran's president, Mohammad Khatami, who had sided with the reformers earlier, has made no public comment about the election crisis since late last week when he fell ill with sudden back pain. Parliament speaker Mehdi Karoubi has called on Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to intervene in the standoff. The ayatollah has the final say in all state matters.