- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2004

TEHRAN — Homa Nasseri will be a rarity in Friday’s parliamentary election — a reform-minded woman who has been granted permission by the hard-line Council of Guardians to run for office.

Like thousands of other candidates, Miss Nasseri was originally barred from running by the council, an appointed body of clerics and jurists who vet all political candidates and laws.

But she appealed the ruling, prompting a representative from the council to come to her neighborhood and ask about her.

“They had strange questions,” she said. “They wanted to know whether I prayed and whether I dressed modestly.”

Apparently satisfied with what it learned, the council reversed its ruling and Miss Nasseri joined with seven other candidates who visit mosques, civic associations and studentgroups under the banner of the Independent Reformists.

There will be few others like them on the ballot Friday. Hundreds of reform candidates — including many current members of parliament — have withdrawn their names to protest the banning of like-minded politicians.

More than 100 of the reformist lawmakers yesterday put their names on an extraordinary protest letter accusing the nation’s spiritual leader of rigging the election in support of hard-liners.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is generally considered above criticism in the theocratic state, has allowed freedoms to be “trampled,” said the letter.

Numerous political groups have called for a boycott of the vote, suggesting the turnout will be far lower than in past elections. Last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, announced yesterday that she will not vote.

Nevertheless, political campaign posters dot the streets of Tehran and ads have begun filling newspapers, many adopting the same secular, good-government themes promoted by the reformists.

“Honesty with people, confidence in the youth, management by professionals, social welfare,” reads one ad for a political party.

And at a tiny mosque on a narrow side street in south Tehran, a crowd of about 50 potential voters waited one recent evening to meet Miss Nasseri, a well-spoken, unemployed doctor who has dabbled in journalism and social science.

“We’re living in a country that has so many resources,” she said after arriving an hour late, her grass-roots political campaign stymied by Tehran’s nightmarish traffic congestion.

“We, the people of Iran, have a special history and a special culture that separates us from other nations. But we also have special needs.”

Her reasonably polished stump speech touches upon all of Iran’s contemporary social worries — inflation, unemployment, juvenile delinquency, drug addiction and AIDS.

“I’m an unemployed doctor, and you’re an employed worker,” she says. “There’s no difference.”

Miss Nasseri has spent about $700 on her striking campaign posters, one of which shows her wearing a red rose on her black head scarf — a sly wink at those disillusioned with the morbid tones of Iran’s ruling clerics.

“There are other candidates spending $60,000 or $120,000,” she said. “There’s a big difference between those on top and those on the bottom.”

Another poster shows her smiling broadly in front of a map of Iran and next to a globe of the world. “I wanted to convey joy with my posters,” she said.

Each sign includes her Web site (www.nasseri-ir.com), designed by her tech-savvy sister, and her e-mail address, as well as the slogan, “Peace, human rights, democracy.”

She says her phone rings constantly with curious voters such as Ali Moeni, a 27-year-old taxi driver and community activist who has plastered his rickety car with her posters and says he’ll devote his week to campaigning for her.

Mr. Moeni said he spends his mornings on a dusty soccer field coaching disadvantaged youngsters. “If we could get a real field for them, all of this would be worth it.”

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