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Judiciary spokesman raises ante in Iran's electoral row

Tehran, Dec 18, IRNA -- A senior official took President Mohammad Khatami to task Saturday for criticizing Judiciary in barring many candidates from standing at Iran's parliamentary elections in February.

Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Elham said that Khatami had in fact 'incriminated' the Judiciary for accusing it of failing to heed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's views in the vetting process.

"The Supreme Leader's expression of sympathy exists in writing, which indicates his endorsement of the Guardian Council for fulfilling its duty during Seventh Parliamentary election and his satisfaction with that," he told reporters here.

"The President believes that the Leader's views have not been addressed at the Seventh parliamentary elections, but this is (Mr. Khatami's) personal view," Elham added.

Elham's statements came in response to Khatami's remarks during his recent address of the students at Tehran university, in which he faulted the Judiciary for allegedly failing to address Ayatollah Khamenei's call to hold a broad-based election.

"The head of the executive power has incriminated the Judiciary; the public opinion must judge this," he said.

"If we do not serve the people, we must not frustrate them (through our statements)," Elham said in a veiled attack directed at Khatami.

The Guardian Council came under strong criticism of President Khatami's allies after it declared over 2,000 prospective candidates as disqualified in February.

The council vets the candidates' loyalty to the Islamic establishment as well as parliamentary bills to check their compliance with the Islamic Sharia law and the Constitution.

Khatami himself sent a letter to Ayatollah Khamenei then to express his dissatisfaction with the extent of the disqualifications.

But the leader demanded 'certain grievances' nursed by officials against each other in the electoral row be ignored.

"Our country today more than any time, needs unity and concord among the esteemed officials and the dignified nation expects as such from the country's officials," he said.

The resurgence of the electoral row comes amid fresh maneuvering of political groups, as Iran prepares for the next presidential elections in mid-May.

So far, Iran's former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, who is now the supreme leader's top advisor, and former chief of the Islamic Revolution's Guards Corps, Mohsen Rezaie, have announced their intentions to compete in the election.

Ali Larijani, another aide to Ayatollah Khamenei, has not ruled out his intention to stand.

However, deputy speaker of parliament Mohammad Reza Bahonar was quoted by the press Saturday as saying that former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani had demanded to be counted out.

"Whenever I and my friends have asked him about his decision he has firmly said 'I am not in' and instead announced his favorable candidate," the daily Mardomsalari quoted Bahonar as saying.

Rafsanjani, now the head of the arbitrative Expediency Council, had been cited as one of likely candidates in the race, but he has yet to declare his intentions.

Their rivals in Khatami's camp have kept the Iranians guessing after they failed to persuade former prime minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi, a charismatic figure since Iran's imposed war with Iraq during 1980s, to take up the mantle.

However, former speaker of the parliament Mehdi Karroubi is being wooed as a possibility.

Earlier this month, President Khatami sent a directed message, taking up his familiar refrain to remind Iranian officials of the need for competitive elections, where eligible groups of all political hue are given an even chance in the next presidential race.

Recalling his trademark call for the rule of law and a civil society, Khatami took the stage at parliament, where most of his supporters were ousted by their rivals during February's parliamentary election.

"Our country today stands on the brink of another historical moment, namely the elections and we must meet the conditions for a massive and hopeful participation of the people in order to hold a lively election," he said.

The eight-year tenure of the Iranian president, who won a landslide reelection in 2001, was far from plain-sailing, and he repeatedly complained of lacking enough power to deliver on his promises.

Khatami saw his bid to prop up presidential powers quashed after two of his bills failed to make it through stiff vetting of the country's supervisory apparatus even though they enjoyed overwhelming support of his allies in the parliament.

Even the incumbent parliament took power after the supervisory Guardian Council disqualified about 2,000 prospective candidates from standing.

"We must learn how to compete in being diverse and plural, and must not mistake competition for fighting," Khatami said.

"The thinking that only one taste rules the society and unity be sought within such an ideology is both impossible and unfavorable.

"It is impossible to realize democracy and meet people's demands with a totalitarian culture as well as self-centeredness, reclusiveness and opposition to pluralism.

"To realize the will of the people and their objectives, there is no other way than being together and (maintaining) unity," the Iranian president said, citing 'the sensitive political situation which the country is faced with'.

"There is need for creating conditions where all groups and political parties affiliated to the establishment and (loyal) to the Constitution can call on the people to participate at the polls and hold a lively election," Khatami added.

... Payvand News - 12/19/04 ... --

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