Image: Iranian Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi
Raheb Homavandi  /  Reuters
Iranian Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi tells reporters in Tehran on Wednesday that unless the candidates are reinstated, “the country will face many problems, both at home and abroad.”
updated 1/21/2004 4:11:23 PM ET 2004-01-21T21:11:23

Iran’s worst political crisis in years deepened Wednesday, with the government saying most of its ministers and vice presidents have submitted resignations to protest the barring of thousands of would-be candidates from upcoming elections.

Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi warned that unless the candidates are reinstated, “the country will face many problems, both at home and abroad.”

“Such disqualifications of prospective candidates is against democracy,” Abtahi said after a Cabinet meeting. “The 1979 Islamic revolution was based on democracy, and such methods damage our Islamic democracy and turn elections into sham elections.”

Government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh told The Associated Press that most of Iran’s six vice presidents and 24 ministers have handed letters of resignation to President Mohammad Khatami. He didn’t identify them.

The officials accuse conservatives of trying to skew the Feb. 20 parliamentary elections in their favor. Hard-liners control the Guardian Council, the powerful unelected body that disqualified more than a third of the 8,200 people who applied to be candidates.

Hard-liners cite legal criteria
State media controlled by hard-liners say those disqualified failed to meet the legal criteria for candidacy. They include 80 liberal members of parliament, who have been holding sit-ins and dawn-to-dusk fasts to protest the decision.

The council on Tuesday reinstated 200 of the disqualified candidates and said it would reconsider the rest.

But reformists said the reinstatements were not enough. Interior Minister Abdolvahed Mousavi Lari presented a report during Wednesday’s Cabinet session saying the hard-liners want to secure at least 180 seats in the 290-seat parliament.

“A number of Cabinet ministers and a number of vice presidents have resigned,” Abtahi said. “Naturally, they are waiting to see how things go. The Cabinet ministers are very serious in their resignation.”

Khatami holds the line
Khatami, a leading reformer, must approve the resignations for them to take effect. Khatami has threatened to resign if the disqualifications are not reversed. On Wednesday, however, he refused to take that step.

“Because of my position, I have the responsibility to show that I serve the people,” he said in an interview with SF DRS public television in Switzerland, where he was attending the World Economic Forum. “I intend to continue in my job and to serve the people. I intend to fulfill my duty.”

Abtahi said a presidential committee has been trying to resolve the crisis but has made little progress. When asked if he too had offered his resignation, Abtahi smiled but did not respond.

In Germany, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for free elections.

“We follow very closely the developments in Iran,” Annan said. “I hope they will be able to find a way to resolve their differences, so that one can have free and fair elections with participation of all the parties.”

Some Political analyst Reza Mahmoudi said most Iranians don’t expect the officials to follow through on their resignation threat.

“The resignations are apparently intended to raise hopes and get a disappointed young nation back to the ballot boxes,” he said. “Although the fight is now very serious, people will realize this only if reformers boycott the polls altogether.”

Political activist Hasan Zarezadeh said the tactics will have no effect on the hard-liners.

“This is the final battle for survival,” he said. “Hard-liners don’t want reformers in power and are determined to take control of parliament at any cost. Reformers need to boycott polls or stand up firmly if they want to have any future.”

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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