UNENTHUSIASTIC ELECTORAL CAMPAIGNING NEAR ENDING

By Safa Haeri

PARIS, 16 Feb. (IPS) With only two more days left to the end of electoral campaigning, thousands of candidates, most of them unknown to the public, are in full gear to attract voters in the Majles elections due on 20 February.

The campaign started amidst one of Iran’s most dramatic electoral crisis triggered by the decision of the Council of the Guardians to disqualify the majority of candidates belonging to the reformist wing of the leadership, including a hundred of reformist Members of the present Majles in the one hand and a widespread apathy of the public.

Though Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i, the leader of the Islamic Republic and all senior clerics have called on the voters to come to the polls, presenting the elections as a "religious duty", but latest survey carried by the Interior Ministry shows that the majority of the voters would abstain, as some of the 18 different parties, groups and organizations that make the coalition that support President Mohammad Khatami.image

The disqualifications resulted in the split of the Second Khordad Coalition, with some formations saying they would take part in the polls, like the Association of Combatant Clergymen to which belong Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Khatami.

According to the latest figures, some 5,000 candidates are competing for the 290 seats in the Majles, or parliament. Despite officials urging candidates to avoid American-type campaign, but eyewitnesses reported that walls in major cities as well as in small towns and villages are filled with large posters of hopefuls, most of them independent figures closer to the conservatives than the reformists.

There are 46.3 million eligible voters.

"The campaign is largely being waged through posters, in the form of advertisements in newspapers and on the Internet rather than in public meetings or on the conservative-controlled radio and televisions", one analyst pointed out.

The Interior Ministry in charge of running the vote had put the initial candidate list at 5,600, but announced Saturday that a further 550 approved candidates had decided not to stand. No reason for their decision was given.

Eight reformist parties announced they had set up a "Coalition for Iran" to contest the poll.

But Missing from the campaign are the hundreds of reformist candidates, among them some of Iran's best-known politicians, including Dr. Mohammad Reza Khatami, the younger brother of the embattled President who is the leader of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, Iran’s largest political formation.

Mr. Mohsen Mirdamadi, the Chairman of the Security and Foreign Affairs Committee of the present Majles, himself among the barred candidates, had described the massif disqualification as "a political coup".

Reformists lawyers and the Interior Minister, Hojjatoleslam Abdolvahed Mousavi-Lari had called for the elections to be postponed, but Mr. Khatami opposed the idea immediately, causing the crushing defeat of the reformist deputies who had hoped and counted on the firm support of the President.

In total, more than 1,200 candidates will be seeking election in the sprawling capital and its environs -- a list that may prove bemusing to many voters. In addition, some candidates belong to more than one group.

Despite an order from the authorities to the press not to report possible unrests in connection to the elections, but some Iranian websites reported Sunday heavy fighting in the Kurdish city of Marivan, in northwestern Iran near the Iraqi border.

According to the information, mobs attacked campaign locations belonging to the conservative candidates, clashed with Law and Order Forces and set fire on public buildings.

According to widespread rumours in the Iranian capital, in order to claim that the majority of voters had fulfilled their political and religious duty, the conservatives are hoarding and fabricating identity cards. "Right now, more than 3 million falsified ID or belonging to dead people are in the hands of conservatives", one source insisted. ENDS IRAN ELECTION CAMPAIGN 16204