Iran's top leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Wednesday for clean campaigning during March parliament elections, urging candidates and their supporters to abstain from smearing rivals' reputations.
"Discrediting and damaging the reputation of individuals in the press, Internet web sites and other means is not correct at all, and is not advisable," Khamenei said on state television. "I strongly request and insist that the sympathizers only propagate and support their favorite candidates and seriously avoid such damaging methods."
The call by Khamenei, who was addressing a large crowd in the provincial capital of Yazd in central Iran, comes amid stepped up criticism of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by both moderate conservatives and reformists ahead of the crucial vote.
The March 14 elections are expected to be a key test of Ahmadinejad's hold on power and also a key indicator for the 2009 presidential vote.
Iranian authorities have appointed senior hard-liners to monitor the elections, stoking fears of a replay of the 2004 legislative elections when thousands of reformists were barred from running.
In that polling, mass disqualification of candidates by the hard-line Guardian Council effectively allowed hard-liners to regain control of the legislature.
The Council's chief Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, a key Ahmadinejad ally, said last month that any candidate determined by the Guardian Council to be disloyal to the principles of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution would be barred from running in these elections.
The announcement provoked widespread condemnation from reformists.
Former reformist president Mohammad Khatami said the council had no right to decide for the nation and deprive Iranians of the right to elect or be elected.
Khatami has said he won't run in the March elections but has begun publicly supporting reformists who hope to wrestle control of the legislature away from the hard-liners.
Khamenei, the supreme leader, called for a large turnout at the polls. The state TV quoted him as saying that a significant turnout, "efforts to identify the best candidates, observing correct election behavior and avoiding damaging the candidates were necessary." ( AP )