- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2008

SPECIAL PREVIEW:For the full version of this developing story, read tomorrow’s editions of The Washington Times or visit www.washingtontimes.com. TEHRAN, Iran A purge by Iran’s Guardian Council has disqualified most reformist politicians from tomorrow’s parliamentary elections, ensuring the next legislature will be dominated by hard-liners, many of whom are loyal to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“Barring political rivals has become the norm in Iranian politics,” said Fariborz Raisdana, 60, a political analyst in Tehran. “They want to muzzle any opposition.”

Iran’s reformists, a designation for politicians who seek greater social freedoms and closer ties with the West, have candidates for about 30 percent of the seats in the 290-strong Majlis, or parliament.

Of those, reformist candidates fortunate if they win even half of the contested seats, analysts say.

  • Click here to read a Q&A; with the president-elect of National Council of Resistance of Iran, an exile group dedicated to the overthrow of the regime in Tehran.

  • Thousands of reformist candidates were recently purged from the electoral process by the Guardian Council, a group of clerics that vets candidates for loyalty to the country’s Islamic system.

    The council can also veto any law passed by parliament.

    Founded more than a century ago, Iran’s parliament is one of the oldest and potentially one of the most powerful in the Middle East. However, everything it does is controlled by clerics and especially supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini.

    In tomorrow’s elections, the ayatollah and fellow clerics on the Guardian Council have limiting reformist candidates to well-known figures such as former President Mohammed Khatami.

    “In doing so,” said a prominent Iranian journalist who requested anonymity, “they are furthering religious conservatives, and emphasizing a message that any whiff of moderation is enough to declare candidates disloyal to the revolution.”

    Even the candidacy of Ali Eshraghi, a grandson of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, was barred from running for parliament.

    “Everywhere we go, we are all talking about the number of candidates rejected,” Mohammed Ali Abtahi, 48, a reformist cleric and a former vice president, wrote in a recent posting on his blog.

    Iran is investigating one reformist member of the present parliament for “treason” because he gave an interview to a U.S.-funded Persian television channel, the intelligence minister said.

    Noureddine Pir Mouazen, the spokesman of reformists in parliament, gave an interview about the elections to the Persian service of the Voice of America, a channel despised by Iran’s clerical leaders.

    “This has definitely been treason and an appalling act,” Intelligence Minister Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie told state-run news agency IRNA, Agence France-Presse reported.

    Mr. Pir Mouazen, 49, had already been banned from running in tomorrow’s election.

    In these elections, 44 million Iranians are eligible to vote. Those who favor the reformist cause, however, are thought likely to stay away from the polls.

    Mr. Abtahi has urged those seeking change in Iran to participate by casting ballots.

    Boycotting this election, he said, would make it tougher to put up candidates against Mr. Ahmadinejad in 2009 presidential elections.

    “There is a little time left to say to people that ‘in order to make a change in the political and economic system of the country … we should take part in the election to make a different atmosphere,’ ” he wrote on his blog.

    “In the past, when people did not participate and naturally reformists, with all deficiencies they had and have, could not get the votes, did not the country face increasing international sanctions, failure and global humiliation?” he wrote.

    In the presidential elections of 1997 and 2001, the quiet and reserved reformist leader Mr. Khatami won by landslides, getting more than 80 percent of the vote.

    This story was reported with a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting in Washington.For the full version of this developing story, read tomorrow’s editions of The Washington Times or visit www.washingtontimes.com.

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