- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 25, 2004

TEHRAN — Iran’s hard-line Guardian Council has vetoed a bill that sought to reverse the disqualification of thousands of reformist electoral candidates, a leading legislator said late yesterday.

The move is part of an escalating battle between reform-minded lawmakers and religious hard-liners who dominate the most powerful branches of the government.

“We’ve been informed that the Guardian Council has vetoed the legislation on the grounds that it contradicted the constitution and Shariah [Islamic] law,” said Mohsen Mirdamadi, who heads the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee of the parliament and is one of the lawmakers disqualified.

The bill sought to overturn the disqualification of more than a third of the 8,200 candidates who registered for the Feb. 20 elections.

Members of the Guardian Council could not immediately be reached for comment.

The veto is considered likely to provoke a boycott of the elections by reformist parties and politicians, who dominate the current 290-seat parliament. Reformists had condemned the disqualifications as an attempt by the hard-liners to skew the elections in their favor.

The legislators had passed the bill earlier yesterday in a session broadcast live on state radio. They categorized it as “triple-urgent,” meaning highest priority. It was the first time since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution that parliament had approved a triple-urgency bill.

The bill would have amended the national elections law to force the Guardian Council, which oversees elections, to reinstate all candidates unless there is legal documentation to prove them unfit for parliament.

The council’s members are chosen by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has asked the body to reconsider its disqualifications. The council has reinstated only a few hundred candidates. Its slow response has angered reformists, who say it does not act without the supreme leader’s approval.

After the bill was passed, and before it was vetoed, lawmaker Rajabali Mazrouei said the crisis would determine in which direction Iran moves — toward dictatorship or democracy.

He said rejection of the bill would mean the council was “publicly revealing its true objective of imposing brazen dictatorship.”

“The rejection will mean that all options to avert an exacerbation of the crisis are finished,” Mr. Mazrouei added.

Reformist political parties have threatened to boycott the elections if the disqualifications are not overturned.

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