President Mohammad Khatami on Tuesday pledged that the February 20 parliamentary elections will go ahead according to schedule in a 'healthy, free and competitive' environment, IRNA reported from Tehran.
"The government's plan is to hold healthy, free and competitive elections and we will definitely hold such an election," he said here while giving a send-off to his Austrian counterpart Thomas Klestil at the end of a four-day visit.
Khatami's statements put an end to the speculation that the government may choose to ditch the elections following the wholesale disqualification of prospective candidates and the supervisory Guardians Council's refusal to reinstate them.
"To shut down the elections means to shut down democracy and God does not want such a thing for our people," the president said.
"The Iranian nation, even at a time when part of the country was under the enemy's occupation and bombings, held the elections firmly and calmly," he said, recalling the 1980-1988 war, imposed by former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
President Khatami, unlike a group which has put itself on a collision course with the supervisory electoral boards, has stuck to his typical moderate line and appealed to all political groups to stay calm.
He described the elections as 'manifestation of democracy', which he pledged, will be maintained firmly and strongly.
"Democratic movement in Iran is serious and we are trying to make this movement enduring despite all the existing problems," Khatami said.
Democracy is an objective of the Islamic Republic and a historical demand of the Iranian people, he said, adding no internal or external obstacle can halt it.
"Whatever the results of the elections may be, they will definitely be better than America's presidential elections, where doubts about the choice of (George W.) Bush were resolved in court," Khatami said.
Interior Minister Abdolvahed Mousavi Lari, however, said the possibility of holing 'free, healthy and competitive elections' was non-existent and warned that 'very grave and irreparable damage' was threatening the establishment.
"Elections will be healthy and free only when the law is implemented equally with respect to the electorate and the candidates," he said at the same ceremony to see off President Klestil.
"A totally premeditated plan has been devised to eliminate a certain party and this move does not comply with any legal norms.
"This politically clandestine current is trying to force its rival completely out of the scene. Under such a condition, we, as the executives of the elections are not able to hold free, healthy and competitive elections," Lari added.
"I have to call this a loss and a problem which is unprecedented in the history of the Islamic Revolution," the minister said.
"According to our estimates, deputies for more than half of the seventh Majlis seats have been specified by the supervisory boards ... what can be done barring a formality when MPs have been chosen in advance?," Lari added.
The interior minister, however, rejected rumors that he had resigned.
Over 3,600 candidates from among more than 8,000 of those registered for the February 20 elections have been declared as disqualified by the supervisory electoral boards.
Dozens of incumbent MPs, mostly barred from standing again, have held sit-ins to protest the blanket disqualifications.
President Khatami and Parliament Speaker Mehdi Karroubi have called for 'a fundamental review at the earliest' of the wholesale disqualifications.
The two officials have described the rejections as 'unworthy of the religious and democratic establishment' of the Islamic Republic.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has also demanded that the mass disqualifications be reviewed and urged the Guardians Council to accelerate the work of re-examining those barred.
On Sunday, the Guardians Council rejected outright an emergency amendment to the electoral law, after parliament approved it the same day to make the supervisory boards' vetting of the prospective candidates less stringent.
According to the daily Yas-e No, "the Guardians Council found this three-star emergency bill contrary to the Sharia law and certain articles of the Constitution".
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