Tehran, Iran - In the most daring challenge to Iran's ruling clerics
in years, dozens of reformist lawmakers yesterday accused the
country's supreme leader of rigging upcoming elections to allow his
conservative supporters to gain control of parliament.
The reformers blamed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for presiding over a
system they said has "trampled" democratic rights and
strayed from the ideals of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought
clerics to power in Iran. The lawmakers outlined their charges in a
letter to Khamenei, in an unprecedented public criticism of a man who
wields ultimate political and spiritual authority.
In recent years, reformers who made milder criticisms of Khamenei
ended up in jail. But yesterday's letter suggests that the boundaries
of political dissent in Iran might shift permanently after last
month's disqualification of more than 2,400 pro-reform candidates from
Friday's parliamentary elections. The candidates, including 80 current
legislators, were banned by the Guardian Council, whose 12 members
answer directly to Khamenei.
"The popular revolution brought freedom and independence for the
country in the name of Islam. But now you lead a system in which
legitimate freedoms and the rights of the people are being trampled in
the name of Islam," lawmakers said in the letter, which was sent
to Khamenei on Monday and made public yesterday.
The letter was not signed, but it spoke in the name of
"protesting legislators." Parliamentary officials said more
than 100 legislators backed the letter, including deputy speaker
Mohammad Reza Khatami, brother of President Mohammad Khatami.
There was no immediate reaction from Khamenei or other senior members
of the non-elected clerical leadership.
The mass exclusion of candidates has plunged Iran into one of its most
serious crises since the 1979 revolution. With the best-known
reformers banned, conservatives are expected to sweep the elections
and retake control of the 290-seat parliament. Liberals won control of
the legislature in a landslide victory four years ago, but have been
prevented from enacting major social and political reforms.
"Institutions under your supervision - after four years of
humiliating the elected parliament and thwarting [reform] bills - have
now deprived the people of the most basic right: the right to choose
and be chosen," legislators said in the letter to Khamenei.
Reformers have urged Iranians to boycott the elections, saying a low
turnout will expose the process as a "sham" and hand the
conservatives a hollow victory.
In the last parliamentary elections in 2000, voter turnout was 67
percent. In Friday's balloting, reformers expect a nationwide turnout
below 50 percent and participation in major cities - where the
majority of liberal candidates were disqualified - to be as low as 20
In a sermon last week, Khamenei called for a massive voter turnout to
give "the enemies of the Islamic system a slap in the face."
Khamenei and other Iranian officials routinely refer to the United
States and Israel as enemies plotting against Iran.
Khatami, the reformist president who failed to have the
disqualifications overturned, appealed to Iranians on Monday to cast
their ballots despite "some unfairness" to prevent
hard-liners from seizing control of parliament. But the ban has split
the reform movement, with many of Khatami's allies calling for a
About 5,600 candidates were allowed to remain on the ballot. The
council has the power to veto legislation and candidates based on
loosely defined Islamic and legal grounds.
The banning of candidates has failed to ignite interest in the
election among ordinary Iranians, who are disenchanted with politics
after seven years of largely unfulfilled promises of reform under
Reformers vow to continue their efforts. "The Iranian people
still want democracy," said Mohsen Mirdamadi, a reformist
legislator barred from seeking re-election.