Ayatollah Orders Review of Ban on 2 Iran Reformers
Neil MacFarquhar, NY Times:
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme religious leader, on Monday ordered a watchdog group dominated by his hard-line allies to review its decision blocking two reformist candidates from running in presidential elections next month.Iranian bloggers are asserting the Supreme Leader's sudden intervention is pre-staged political theater. One such blogger, Windsteed, claims:
Responding to the ban, the main reformist faction has vowed to boycott the polls - a touchy subject in Iran, which uses the turnout as a kind of referendum on its system of government, dominated by Islamic clerics. The leadership is looking for a strong mandate at the moment, because it faces increased international pressure over its nuclear development program.
"It's appropriate that all individuals in the country be given the choice from various political tendencies," Ayatollah Khamenei, the ultimate judge for all matters of state, said in his decree, which was carried by the official Islamic Republic News Agency.
The watchdog Guardian Council, however, did nothing to change its decision last year when a similar appeal was issued after it eliminated scores of reformist candidates from the parliamentary elections. That vote was marked by a low turnout, and the lack of reforms has increased both apathy and anger, particularly within the huge bloc of young voters. About two-thirds of Iranians are younger than 30. READ MORE
The two candidates Ayatollah Khamenei mentioned for review were Dr. Mostafa Moin, a physician and former minister of education, and Mohsen Mehralizadeh, a vice president.
The office of Ali Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the man whose position as presidential front-runner was consolidated by the eliminations, announced that he had issued a letter seconding the request for a review, IRNA reported. The Guardian Council, an unelected body that vets all candidates, announced late Sunday that it was eliminating virtually the entire record field of 1,014 presidential contenders who registered for the June 17 race.
Most of the eliminations were expected. Gone were 89 women who tried to run, gone was the former goalie of Iran's national soccer team, and most important, gone was anyone from the reformist camp hoping to inherit the huge public mandate of President Mohammad Khatami to push for political change.
Aside from Mr. Rafsanjani - a pragmatic, 70-year-old cleric who was president from 1989 to 1997 and was a pillar of the 1979 Islamic revolution - those left include another moderate cleric as well as four men who are all veterans of the Revolutionary Guards and allies of Ayatollah Khamenei. The four are Muhammad Baqer Qalibaf, who left his job as police chief to run and is viewed as a populist; Ali Larijani, the former head of state media; Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the mayor of Tehran; and Mohsen Rezai, head of the Revolutionary Guards from 1981 to 1997. The fifth man was Mehdi Karroubi, the centrist former Parliament speaker who failed to win a seat in the parliamentary vote last year.
The sweeping eliminations were viewed as a sign that hard-liners are ready to be more assertive as the eight-year rule of President Khatami ends. His victory in 1997 was a surprise that the conservatives do not want repeated. "They are trying to correct what they consider their mistake of eight years ago by banning the reform movement inside Iran," said Isa Saharkhiz, the editor of Aftab, one of the few surviving reformist papers.
This latest move by the Leader is a very tactical one. It implies that he was unaware of the final list of the qualified candidates published by the GC on Sunday night. But one should be very naive to believe this was actually the case. The GC would never make such a big decision without consulting with the Leader in advance to get his approval. However, the Leader was concerned that disqualifying the only major reformist candidate might cause social and political unrest. His concerns turned out to be true...