Thursday, January 29, 2004

Iran update

A quick rundown of developments over the last few days in the crisis over elections in Iran.

Saturday, January 24, from Agence France-Presse.
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and the speaker of parliament, Mehdi Karubi, demanded a "full review" of a decision by powerful conservatives to blacklist thousands of pro-reform candidates from next month's parliamentary elections.

The two reformists called in a rare joint statement for a "full review of the Guardians Council decision to have elections that are fair, free and open to competition," according to the state news agency IRNA on Saturday. ...

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the council last week to be less stringent in its vetting procedure in an apparent bid to resolve the crisis, but only some 300 of the rejected candidates have now been approved.

Khatami and Karubi argued that "a religious democracy does not deserve an election where there will be no competition for 190 seats (in the 290 seat Majlis) and where ... the process favours only one camp." ...

According to press reports Saturday, more than 70 deputy ministers and senior bureaucrats - including 16 from the vital oil ministry - have also submitted their resignations in response to the standoff.
Sunday, January 25, from the BBC.
The Iranian parliament has approved a bill seeking to change election law and overturn a ban on reformist candidates.

An emergency session of MPs decided to intervene in a crisis sparked by the Guardians Council ban on thousands of candidates from next month's elections.

Under the changes, those approved for past elections would be able to run again unless there is strong evidence to prove they are unfit. ...

Sunday's session of parliament, broadcast live on radio, classified the election bill as "triple-urgent".

This category is reserved for when parliament feels the basic rights of the nation are in serious jeopardy or the country is in great political or military danger, correspondents say.

It has not been used since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Sunday, January 25, from AP.
Iran's hard-line Guardian Council vetoed a bill on Sunday that would have curbed its power, throwing elections into doubt in a historic confrontation between reformers and conservatives.

The Guardian Council rejected a bill reinstating thousands of candidates that it disqualified earlier. The veto is likely to provoke a boycott of the Feb. 20 legislative elections by reformers. ...

Members of President Mohammad Khatami's government have said they will not hold what would be "sham elections" if the disqualifications are upheld. ...

Reformers believe the conservatives are trying to tilt the elections so they will regain control of the 290-seat parliament. In the 2000 polls, the hard-liners lost the majority in the assembly for the first time since the 1979 revolution.
Monday, January 26, from CBS News
Iranian reformists accused conservatives Monday of employing totalitarian tactics and said they were considering boycotting next month's legislative elections in frustration with a deepening political crisis. ...

"The government will continue its activities to help form conditions for fair, free and competitive elections ... existence of competition is the main condition for holding the elections," the Iranian Cabinet said in a statement.

Students said they planned mass protests against the hard-liners in what has become Iran's worst political crisis in years.

"Students will join professors of all universities in Tehran today to support disqualified prospective hopefuls and denounce hard-liners who are restricting people's choice," reformist student leader Hossein Baqeri said Monday.
Tuesday, January 27, from AP.
Iran's president has refused to accept the mass resignation of top government officials, state-run media reported Tuesday. Reformists spoke of a compromise to resolve the country's worst political crisis in years. ...

Last week, the government announced that most of Iran's six vice presidents and 24 ministers had tendered their resignations to protest the disqualifications. They were not identified, and the resignations needed President Mohammad Khatami's approval.

Khatami, refusing to accept the resignations, called on the ministers and vice presidents to "proceed with their services to the people," according to the Islamic Republic News Agency.

More than 70 top civil servants also had threatened to resign if free and fair elections were not guaranteed. Khatami himself also had done so, but later said he would continue in his post. ...

Top reformist and hard-line leaders met into early Tuesday to try to resolve the crisis. Parliament Speaker Mahdi Karroubi said four Cabinet ministers had been assigned to investigate the disqualifications and reach a compromise with the Guardian Council, IRNA reported.

The announcement was the first signal that the crisis, which has threatened to lead the country toward political chaos, might be resolved soon. ...

State-run Tehran radio quoted Karroubi as saying that a compromise was in the making.

"We will witness a good understanding between the government and the Guardian Council in the next two days," Karroubi was quoted as saying. He said that by late afternoon Thursday, "some good news will be announced."
Wednesday, January 28, from Reuters.
Iran's reformist President Mohammad Khatami said on Wednesday he was hopeful a bitter row would be resolved over the mass disqualification of reformist candidates from standing in parliamentary elections next month.

But Khatami, whose government has strongly protested a move by the hardline Guardian Council watchdog to bar almost half the 8,200 hopefuls from the February 20 vote, warned he would not accept even a single "unfair" candidate disqualification. ...

Guardian Council spokesman Vahid Jalalzadeh said 700 banned candidates had now been reinstated but insisted the council would not yield to "propaganda, pressures and bullying." ...

Iran's main reformist student body - a powerful political force in a country where two-thirds of people are under 30 years old and the minimum voting age is 15 - called on deputies not to "give in to baseless promises."

"The biggest mistake and failure of the reform movement ... would be to give in to holding the elections," the Office to Consolidate Unity said in a statement....
Well, it's now Thursday afternoon, and instead of an announcement of "good news," we have this:

Thurday, January 29, from Reuters.
Iranian state governors called for a postponement of next month's parliamentary election, state media said Thursday, as Iran's worst political crisis in years neared a tense climax.

State governors are appointed by the interior minister and help organize elections at a provincial level. Their unprecedented opposition to staging an election could make it difficult for Iran to execute the vote smoothly. ...

"Bearing in mind the current conditions, it will not be possible to hold the ... elections on Feb. 20 as previously scheduled," the governors said in a letter to Interior Minister Abdolvahed Mousavi-Lari, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Even though about a quarter of barred candidates were reinstated after appeals, "organizing a free and fair election is still impossible since a large number ... have been deprived of their right to run quite illegally," the letter said. ...

A second round of appeals can take place before the vote but scores of reformist members of parliament have said they will resign or boycott the vote unless most of the bans are overturned by this weekend.
Stay tuned.

Update January 31: Edited to correct misnaming of Agence France-Presse.

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