Five hundred fifty pro-reform candidates have decided to drop out of Iran's coming parliamentary election.
A reformist newspaper quoted the Interior Ministry as saying the candidates have decided not to run to protest last month's disqualification of nearly one-third of the election hopefuls.
The candidates who withdrew had been allowed to run by the conservative Guardian Council. They said they pulled out because they feel the election will not be fair.
Iran's student news agency published an open letter from a prominent Iranian dissident, Hashem Aghajari, who said the election spells the end of Iran's reform movement. The jailed academic called for Iranians to protest against totalitarians with "passive resistance."
Analyst Pakinam El-Sharkawy, a political science professor at Cairo University and an expert on Iran, predicts voter turnout will be low.
"There is a lot of frustration within the Iranian population," said professor El-Sharkawy. "They [are] beginning to lose hope with both conservatives and moderates and they [are] beginning to get sick of all these games, especially with this economic crisis and so on. So I think regarding all the frustrations that Iranians are living in now that the present election will not reach the old level of 2000."
The Guardian Council, an unelected, overseeing, group of 12 Islamic clerics and jurists, sparked political turmoil in Iran when it banned 2,500 mostly reformist candidates from running in the February 20 election.
Iran's largest pro-reform party has already promised to boycott the election. Reformists are accusing conservatives of staging a "bloodless coup." They say that by eliminating pro-reform candidates, the Islamic Guardian Council is fixing a conservative takeover of the Iranian parliament.