- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2008

TEHRAN — Reformist candidates were despondent on the eve of today’s parliamentary elections in Iran, saying reformers were permitted to run for only about 30 percent of 290 seats in the Majlis and would do well to win half of those.

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

Many of the candidates are loyal to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is best known for his anti-Western and anti-Semitic rhetoric.

“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.”

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 videos below were provided to The Washington Times by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a coalition of Iranian opposition groups which has called for a boycott of today’s Iranian election. Risking harsh prison sentences, the protesters, including members of the People’s Muhajideen of Iraq, surreptitiously posted fliers around Tehran calling for a boycott of the election and videotaped their actions. Slogans on the posters include “We want no rule of force” and “No to the mullahs’ sham elections.” (Videos by National Council of Resistance of Iran)

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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 the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In today’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.

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 today’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, the former vice president to Mr. Khatami, 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.

“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.

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