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1/14/04 - IRAN NEEDS FREE ELECTIONS - 2004-01-14

Iran is scheduled to hold parliamentary elections next month. But unless quick changes are made, the elections will far from free and fair. That is because Iran’s unelected Council of Guardians has disqualified more than forty percent of the eight-thousand candidates. Rejected candidates include more than eighty current members of the two-hundred-ninety-seat parliament.

The Council of Guardians reviews all laws for consistency with Iran’s version of Islamic law. It also screens political candidates for ideological, political, and religious suitability. It accepts only candidates who support a theocratic state; clerics who disagree with government policies have also been disqualified. In the parliamentary elections of 2000, Iran’s Council of Guardians disqualified nearly ten percent of the six-thousand candidates. Most of those disqualified were outspoken advocates of political reform. Nevertheless, many moderates were allowed to run, and the parliament elected by Iranian voters had a clear majority in favor of reform. But since then, numerous reforms passed by the parliament have been vetoed by the Council of Guardians.

The huge increase in the number of disqualified candidates appears to be an attempt to ensure weaker representation for reformers in the next parliament. The action by the Council of Guardians has been strongly protested by Iranians, including many within the government. And outside the country, both the European Union and the United States have spoken out. Adam Ereli, the U.S. State Department’s deputy spokesman, called on “the Iranian government to disavow attempts by the Guardian Council to shape the outcome of the February 20th parliamentary elections”: “Decisions about who should govern a country are best made by the citizens of that nation through an open and transparent process. The options of the people in that regard shouldn’t be limited by other institutions, so as to prejudge the election or the outcome of an election.”

The Iranian regime, as President George W. Bush has said, “must heed the democratic demands of the Iranian people, or lose its last claim to legitimacy.”