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Iran: Reformers Ponder Referendum To Counter Conservatives

Tehran, 28 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Reformist legislators in Iran today said they may call a referendum on democratic rights after disputes between parliament and the government's top bodies. Reformist legislator Rajabali Mazrouei said lawmakers have no choice but to hold a referendum in order to meet the demands of the people. He said the government expects to call the referendum before the 2003 legislative elections.

The statement comes after Iran's top arbitrating body, the Expediency Council, yesterday rejected proposals to limit the power of the conservative Guardian Council. Parliament has criticized the Guardian Council for barring some 60 reformist candidates from standing in parliamentary by-elections slated for Friday in Gulistan Province. The members of both councils are appointed by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Reformist parties are essentially boycotting Friday's vote, saying they do not support any of the candidates.

The parliamentary by-election is to replace seven deputies who were killed in an airplane crash. On 21 November parliament called for the postponement of the by-election -- originally scheduled for 30 November -- because of candidate rejections and because of its conflicts with the Guardians Council over this issue.

This demand was ignored, and the candidates began campaigning on 22 November. There will be 21 polling places, with 552 stationary ballot boxes and 386 mobile ones, according to state television on 24 November. There are 26 candidates in Gorgan and Abqalla, 12 candidates in Gonbad, 11 candidates in Minudasht, 14 candidates in the town of Aliabad-i-Katul, 12 candidates in Kordkui, Bandargaz, and Bandar-i-Torkaman, and 34 candidates in the provincial towns of Ramian and Azadshahr.

On 20 November the Guardians Council had rejected a triple-urgency parliamentary bill, which declared that if the council rejects candidates on the basis of regulations that do not correspond with the existing election law, the Interior Ministry is not obliged to respect the rejections. Guardians Council spokesman Azizi said, according to state radio, that the bill was "contrary to the constitution."

Local supervisory boards that are affiliated with the Guardians Council had rejected almost 40 percent of the roughly 170 potential candidates. Five parliamentarians were delegated to discuss the issue with the Guardians Council.

Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi criticized the Guardians Council's actions, saying that it was acting outside the law, IRNA reported on 21 November. Reformist parliamentarian Behzad Nabavi said that if the council did not change its stance, "the legitimacy of the regime and national interest will be seriously threatened," AFP reported on 18 November.

Gulistan citizens are not too happy, either, according to a report in the 18 November "Aftab-i Yazd." About 200 locals staged a protest in front of the home of Friday Prayer leader Ayatollah Nuri-Mofidi, after his Tehran counterpart claimed that local officials had unnecessarily politicized the issue of candidate rejections. Moreover, the locals protested the rejection of so many candidates, according to the "RFE/RL Iran Report."