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Khatami says he will go ahead with Feb. 20 elections
By The Associated Press

TEHRAN - President Mohammed Khatami gave in to the supreme leader's order to hold legislative elections on February 20 but said the polls would not be fair because thousands of prominent reformist candidates have been disqualified.

Khatami's reluctant announcement and the boycott of the election by many reformists is likely to further erode its legitimacy, already in doubt after hard-liners repeatedly sabotaged attempts to reach a compromise over the disqualified candidates.

In a joint letter sent to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday, Khatami and Parliament Speaker Mahdi Karroubi warned there will be little motivation for people to vote.

An electoral supervisory body, the Guardian Council, disqualified more than 2,400 pro-reform candidates, provoking strong protests from reformist lawmakers and criticism from Khatami. Several attempts to get the candidates reinstated have failed.

The letter marked a backing down by Khatami, who had earlier said his government would only hold elections that were "competitive, free and fair."

Khatami had asked Khamenei for a postponement of the vote to allow for a resolution of the disqualification dispute. Khamenei, who has the final say on all matters, refused.

Iran's largest reformist party, the Islamic Iran Participation Front, has said it would boycott the elections. The party is led by the president's younger brother, Mohammed Reza Khatami, who is deputy speaker of parliament and one of those barred from the election.

In their letter, Khatami and Karroubi said the government would hold the elections only because it had been ordered to do so by the supreme leader.

"Elections will be held on time on the basis of your order," said the letter. An official in the president's office, who spoke on condition of anonymity, divulged the letter's contents yesterday.

The letter accused the Guardian Council of jeopardizing the integrity of the elections. "The Guardian Council has barred most of the prominent names from the February 20 election, undermining the necessary competition and diminishing the people's motivation to vote," the official quoted the letter as saying.

The official said Khatami will explain his position to the nation in a statement in the coming days.

The Guardian Council is appointed by Khamenei, leading some reformist legislators to accuse the supreme leader of quietly endorsing its actions.

Reformists accuse hard-liners of exploiting the disqualification process to try to fix the elections in favor of the conservatives. Hard-liners have denied this and said the disqualified lacked the qualifications to stand. But the disqualified include 80 members of the outgoing parliament.

Iran's provincial governors have said they would not support the staging of the elections. But Khamenei warned them earlier this week that such opposition would be illegal.

"No one is allowed to refuse to carry out his legal responsibilities because of his opposition," Khamenei said.

Khatami's decision to hold elections has annoyed his reformist allies and created a rift in the reform camp.

"Reformers want Khatami to live up to his promise of not holding sham elections under any circumstances. Khatami should not turn into an instrument in the hands of hard-liners," reformist university teacher Hamid Reza Jalaipour said.

Reformist lawmaker Rajabali Mazrouei said Khatami's decision will have no effect on reformist parties boycotting the polls. "There will be no change in the position of lawmakers and parties that have decided to boycott the elections," he said.

Reformists won control of the parliament in 2000 for the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. But hard-liners have used their control of unelected bodies such as the Guardian Council to thwart attempts to liberalize Iran's political system and relax its strict Islamic social code.


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