Monday, May 23, 2005

I think this is our cue

(Reuters) - Iran's main reformist party on Monday said it would boycott the June 17 presidential election after the disqualification of its candidate, which it called an attempt by conservatives to strengthen their grip on power.

Public reaction to the decision to bar former education minister Mostafa Moin, an outspoken reformist who had promised to free political prisoners and tackle human rights abuses, was muted, with most Iranians resigned to a conservative win.

"The illegal disqualification of candidates will turn the elections into a vote which is not free, unjust, uncompetitive and ... a sham," Moin's main backer, the Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF), said in a statement.

"The IIPF ... will not participate in these elections." It said it would take part if the ban was reversed.

The reformist-run Interior Ministry said in a statement the exclusion of some candidates "creates grave concerns" about voter turnout and urged the hardline Guardian Council to review its decision "to avoid unfavourable consequences".

Of the six candidates deemed eligible to run, moderate conservative Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was likely to be among the biggest beneficiaries of Moin's disqualification, analysts said, raising expectations that he was headed for victory.

"Moin could have taken votes away from Rafsanjani by appealing to those who want to see social freedoms maintained," said one political analyst, who asked not to be named.

"But he (Moin) hadn't attracted that much support and I can't see any big protests about his disqualification."

The unelected Guardian Council of 12 clerics and Islamic jurists eliminated more than 1,000 hopefuls from the race to replace reformist cleric Mohammad Khatami, who is barred by law from seeking a third consecutive term.


Apart from Rafsanjani, 70, who was president from 1989 to 1997 and favours better ties with the West and less state involvement in the economy, the panel approved just one moderate -- reformist and former parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi.

The remaining four candidates -- Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, Ali Larijani, Mohsen Rezaie and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- are all former members of the conservative Revolutionary Guards loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Opinion polls suggest Qalibaf, 43, is Rafsanjani's closest challenger. Analysts speculate that some of the hardline candidates, possibly Rezaie and Ahmadinejad, will drop out before the election to consolidate the anti-Rafsanjani vote.

The Council did not announce its reasons for disqualifying Moin. In 2004 it barred hundreds of reformists from standing for parliament on the grounds that they had shown insufficient loyalty to Iran's system of clerical rule.

Moin described the decision to bar him as "illegal, unfair and illogical" but said he would not appeal.

The liberal Sharq newspaper carried a front-page photograph of Moin, describing him as the election's "big absentee".

There were few signs of a public rally to Moin's cause.

"Why should I care?" asked Haleh, 40. "It doesn't matter who we vote for, the system will still stay the same. I prefer not to vote at all."