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Reformists criticize Iran's supreme leader on elections

From Kasra Naji

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

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Nearly half of the Iranian parliament is critical of general elections proceeding despite the belief that they will not be free or fair.
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TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- Nearly half the members of Iran's parliament are criticizing the Islamic nation's supreme leader for ordering general elections to go ahead Friday despite widespread belief that they will not be free or fair.

"Is not your insistence on holding the elections as scheduled anything but putting your seal of approval on the illegal actions of the Guardian Council?" they asked supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in a six-page open letter.

The Guardian Council, a constitutional body dominated by hard-line clergymen, has barred thousands of reformist candidates from standing in the elections. The reformists accuse the hard-liners of staging a parliamentary coup, saying that the elections will not be free or fair in such circumstances.

The letter was read at a gathering of the protesting members of parliament.

In the letter, the protesters said they are deeply concerned about the future of the country.

"A parliament elected in a sham election will not be able to defend the rights of the people or the security of the country," the letter said.

Eighty of the 290 members of parliament are among those barred, including the leader of the largest reformist faction, Mohammad Reza Khatami, who is the brother of President Mohammad Khatami.

Concern over low turnout

The president also has described the elections as unfair but has called on Iranians to turn out in big numbers to vote for independent candidates. Otherwise, he said, the hard-liners will be allowed to take control of parliament.

But apathy appears widespread among many in the streets of Tehran, leading to concerns that the turnout may be low.

With preparations under way for the elections, seven Kurdish members of parliament issued a statement announcing their boycott of the elections.

The members, who represent the minority Kurds in Iran, are among those barred from standing again in Friday's parliamentary elections.

They said they will not vote and called upon other Kurds not to participate either, saying to do so would elect those who aim to trample on their rights.

Grand ayatollah adds dissident voice

One of Iran's most senior religious leaders also has said the elections will not be free or fair.

Dissident Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri criticized the Guardian Council's decision to disqualify the reformist candidates.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami

"Elections in these circumstances will be of no use, and they will not be free," Montazeri said last week from his home in the holy city of Qom.

Montazeri was at one time heir apparent to the leader of the Islamic Revolution -- Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

"Unfortunately, the Guardian Council has made the elections a two-phase election: First, they elect from among the candidates, and then the people are expected to choose from those elected by the council," Montazeri said. "In this way, elections will not be free."

Sitting behind his desk with a government minder in the room, he said the Islamic Revolution had lost its way.

"Even I, who used to be a leading figure in the revolution, have not the right to speak out," he said. "Authoritarianism will never last long. The gentlemen in power must submit to the wishes of the people, or they will be swept away."

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