An Iranian-American human rights group is asking the United Nations and Western governments to push for a leadership change in Iran. The National Coalition of Pro-Democracy condemned last week's parliamentary elections in Iran as a sham, citing record low voter-turnout and mass resignations of reformist candidates. Iran's Islamic hard-liners won control of the 290 member parliament by a landslide in the February 20 elections.
But the hard-liners' victory was no surprise. Weeks before the election, Iran's religious leaders disqualified 2,400 mostly reformist candidates from running in the election. Shortly after the vote, reformist members of parliament began stepping down following their defeat.
Though the reformers won a majority in the 2000 elections, they were harshly criticized for failing to make any steps toward democracy in the face of opposition from powerful conservatives.
The National Coalition for Pro-Democracy held a news briefing about the elections in New York. The group's director, Nasser Rashidi, said the elections had no credibility. "Many months prior to election day, the Iranian people asked for a boycott of the elections, mainly Iranian students because they didn't believe there would be any reform at all in this regime," he said.
Mr. Rashidi said barely half of the nation's voters turned out to cast their ballots. He says that without a change in the country's hard-line religious leadership, which supersedes all elected officials, including the president, free elections are impossible. "We all believe that there won't be any free elections under the supreme religious leader, as long as they are holding the absolute power," he said.
The U.S. Senate has passed a resolution withholding its support of Iran's elections and called for a democratic government to be put in place.
A spokesman for the hard-line Guardian Council, made up of of conservative clerics and Islamic jurists, has said the United States has to recognize the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic and take the first step to restore diplomatic ties.
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