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Iran body bars many reformers from crucial polls

By Mehrdad Balali

TEHRAN, Iran, January 9, 2000 (Reuters) - At least 30 MPs are among dozens of reformers banned from running in Iran's crucial parliamentary elections next month, newspapers said on Sunday.

The daily Iran, run by the state news agency IRNA, said among those disqualified by the Guardian Council, an elections supervisory body controlled by conservative clerics, were many close allies of President Mohammad Khatami and liberal dissidents.

It said the council had notified the Interior Ministry of the list of rejected candidates, although their names would not be published unless formally requested by those whose candidacies were rejected.

Newspapers said between 30 and 50 deputies in the present parliament, which has 270 seats, had been barred from seeking re-election.

The others are outspoken clerics, journalists and student leaders active in reformist and nationalist groups.

Several rejected MPs said they were still waiting for final confirmation before they made any comments.

``I don't have any problems to be rejected. If they have disqualified me they had better back it up with written proof,'' one deputy told Reuters.

Under a law recently passed by parliament, the Guardian Council has to provide written proof for any rejections and hear complaints from disqualified candidates.


A record 6,860 would-be candidates had signed up to contend for a seat, encouraged by the mood for political participation under President Khatami.

Khatami's interior ministry had already cleared more than 95 percent of them to run, but candidates also needed to be approved by the Guardian Council, which vets candidates to keep non-conformists out of Iran's powerful institutions.

Khatami's allies were hoping to use the president's enduring popularity to break the conservative grip on the assembly and clear opposition to his liberal social and political reforms.

``If the authoritarians (conservatives) dominate the next parliament with the help of the (Guardian Council), this will not face the reform movement with a deadend,'' said Sobh-e Emrouz, the leading reformist daily.

``The next elections are not the end. They are only an stage in the historical process toward pluralism and justice,'' it added.

In an open letter to President Mohammad Khatami, more than 30 reformist leaders voiced concern last week over new rules imposed by the Guardian Council which could prevent all but the most devoted revolutionaries from running in the polls.

But Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pledged on Saturday that the law would be upheld, rejecting charges from reformers that they were being discriminated against.

``Some people make accusations against legal institutions...The criteria is the law, not (political) tendencies. All will be duty-bound to respect the law and act accordingly,'' he said.

A spokesman for the Guardian Council said last week many entrants had an ``inferior value system,'' or criminal backgrounds, including links to the SAVAK, the former shah's dreaded secret police.