Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said on Tuesday he was confident parliamentary elections would go ahead on Feb. 20 despite an intense political row over the disqualification of thousands of candidates.
"Our demand is for free, sound and competitive elections and the government will definitely hold such an election," Khatami told reporters after opening a regional conference.
“I’m confident that such elections will be held on the appointed date,” he said.
The candidate bans imposed by the Guardian Council -- an unelected 12-member body of clerics and jurists -- has plunged Iran into its worst political crisis for years and prompted international concern over the legitimacy of the looming vote.
The vast majority of those barred from standing were reformist allies of Khatami.
Reformist MPs, angered by the apparent unwillingness of the hard-line Guardian Council to reinstate the nearly half of the 8,200 aspirants it has barred from standing in the vote, have said they will consider resigning from their posts.
Reformist parties, which support Khatami’s government, have also said they may boycott the election and government officials have threatened not to organize the vote unless they are convinced it will be a fair race.
Newspaper reports, citing the official IRNA news agency, said Khatami had turned down the resignation offers of dozens of top officials who had threatened to quit over the standoff.
“Of course we will insist on the need to hold a free and fair election as the symbol of democracy and make sure the process leads to a fair result,” Khatami said in the letter.
No stage-managed vote
Government spokesman Abdollah Ramazanzadeh insisted the government would not endorse a “stage-managed” election.
“The government will only organize an election that is competitive, fair and healthy,” he told the ISNA students news agency on Monday.
Reformists accuse the Guardian Council -- a hard-line bastion with sweeping powers that has been a major thorn in the side of Khatami’s reform efforts since his 1997 election win -- of trying to help conservatives regain control of the 290-seat parliament they lost to reformists in 2000 elections.
They argue that unless the bans are overturned, reformists will be unable to compete for about 190 parliament seats.
Those barred include about 80 reformist MPs. About 100 MPs have held a 16-day sit-in at parliament in protest.
Reformist MPs approved an emergency reform of the electoral law on Sunday which would have overturned the election bans but it was quashed by the Guardian Council which has the power to veto any legislation its deems un-constitutional or un-Islamic.
MPs said they would hold meetings on Tuesday to decide on whether to begin a series of mass resignations from their posts.
Public interest in the political row has so far been muted due to widespread disillusionment with reformists failure to deliver change in the face of strong conservative opposition.
Khatami, who has strongly criticized the candidate bans, put his trust in the Guardian Council following the advice given by Iran’s most powerful figure Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has urged the council to revise the candidate bans.
“I hope the guidelines of the Supreme Leader will be fully respected to allow the holding of a free and fair election which, God willing, will help boost the prestige of the Islamic Republic,” he said in the letter to officials.
The council has until Friday to rule on more than 3,000 appeals lodged by disqualified candidates.