IRANIANS TO VOTE FOR CITY COUNCILS AMIDST GENERAL APATHY

By an IPS Correspondent

PARIS 27 Feb. (IPS) Iranians will go to poll Friday for city council elections, amidst accusations from both wings of the Iranian leadership blaming the other for the apathy shown by the general public for this race.

Nearly 225,000 candidates throughout Iran have registered for the elections that, unlike others in the Islamic Republic, candidates are not vetted by the conservatives-controlled Council of Guardians, which is accused of rejecting most of the candidates presented by the reformists or other groups it does not approve, but by the Interior Ministry.

The procedure encouraged many dissidents, mostly from the Iran Freedom Movement (IFM) and the Nationalist-religious to publicly take part in the elections, even though that both formations have been pronounced outlaw and banned from all political activities.

The reformists who controls both the Legislative and the Executive, accuses the conservatives of both having boycotted the race and encouraging people to abstain from voting.

A prove of the public’s cooling towards elections was shown by Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i who, in a speech on Wednesday, expressed his dissatisfaction with the results obtained by many councils, mostly in the capital, which was subject of bitter feud between the reformists.

"Unfortunately, some groups, fronts and currents acted in a way that people do not have confidence. This is damaging, but nevertheless, people must go to polls and elect candidates who are pious, faithful and also competent", he said, confirming the indifference of the general voters, mostly the young ones, for the city councils.

Reformists say aware of being crushed, the conservatives have reverted to methods persuading people not to go to the polls. "A party that is ruling the country, that has all the public media in their control and dispose to billions of dollars feel so weak that prefers to escape rather to take part in the elections", noted Mr. Ebrahim Yazdi, the secretary of the IFM, in remarks that referred to the leaders of the League of Islamic Associations (LIA).

"Many people, especially devoted religious ones, won't participate in the elections because they will be supervised by reformers", Mr. Asadollah Badamchian, a leader of the hard-line League, said.

"People would go to the polls on their religious obligation and not on the basis of social responsibilities", added Mr. Hamid Reza Tarraqi, another member of the Organisation.

However, Mr. Habibollah Asgar Auladi, the secretary of the LIA, one of Iran’s oldest religious parties that have carried many assassinations during the reign of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, confirmed that the League would take part by voting for the pious and the real servants of the regime.

"The low profile of the reformists and the expected low turn out in the city council elections shows that the golden of the so-called reformists are over and the period marked by the reform fever has ended", one journalist connected to the conservatives told Iran Press Service.

Confirming this view, also expressed by many "neo-reformists", Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful Chairman of the Expediency Council said on Thursday that "everything depends on the people, since their ballots determine the officials who are to serve them", adding that people play a decisive role in the upcoming elections.

Aware of the negative impact left by the first city councils, the reformists put the emphasis not on the prominence of their candidates, but on their competence.

But both wings preferred not to present group lists, but to go to polls on individual basis

Reformists also accuses the Voice and Visage (Radio and television), which is under the direct control of the leader, for the people’s apathy, but many observers blame it on the public’s frustration with the inability of President Khatami’s government to deliver political, economic and social reforms he promised and also to their ongoing power-struggle with ruling hard-line clerics.

Though the official reformists blame the slow pace of reforms on hard-liners, accusing them to cling to power through their control of un-elected institutions such as police and judiciary, but neo-reformers like Qasem sho’leh Sa’di, a former Member of the Majles, and Mohsen Sazegara, a journalist and political activist, blame the people’s negative attitude to the reformers, singling out the person of the President for his inability to stand firm to the conservatives defending his promised reforms.

Mr. Sho’leh Sa’di was arrested Monday on his return to Tehran, coming from Paris, exactly on the same day that Mr. Sazegara has been freed from a three days prison. Both of them, in open letters, criticised the present system and suggested that people should revert to peaceful civil disobedience in order to force the ruling clerics to hand power to secularist politicians.

Candidates for Tehran's 15-seat city council include former deputy Interior Minister Mostafa Tajzadeh and Sa’id Razavi, who led student protests against a death sentence issued against university professor Hashem Aghajari. The sentence has since been lifted. ENDS CITY COUNCIL ELECTIONS 27203