Iran's Khatami terms election process "catastrophe"

(dpa) - Former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami termed the election process and widespread disqualifications of reformist candidates for next month's parliamentary elections a "catastrophe," Tehran media reported Thursday.

"That some decent people are disqualified is problem enough, but the more regrettable problem is that the trend of the people's votes is predetermined and this could seriously jeopardize the system," ISNA news agency quoted the reform-minded Khatami as saying.

More than 2,000 candidates, including a large number of pro- Khatami reformists, have reportedly been banned by the Iranian Interior Ministry monitoring committees even before reaching the main monitoring body which is the Guardian Council.

"This is indeed a catastrophe. The most important thing (in a political system) is holding elections without narrow-mindedness and unilateral approach," Khatami said.

Khatami and ex-president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani lead the reformist-moderate coalition, the main opposition faction to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In the 2004 polls, more than 2,500 reformist candidates were rejected due to their alleged non-commitment to the Islamic system. According to reformists, the number for the 2008 elections is even higher.

Due to the vast number of disqualifications, reformists say that they have no serious chance of challenging the conservatives in the March 14 elections.

Even the grandson of late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the reform-minded Ali Eshraqi, was disqualified from the elections.

Observers doubt that, under such circumstances and without a competitive atmosphere, the elections on March 14 could turn out to be a trendsetter for Iran's political future.

But the elections could still become a challenge to Ahmadinejad as also the conservative faction is not fully behind the president.

The conservatives are led by former chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, who resigned last October due to differences with Ahmadinejad over the president's uncompromising nuclear policies which might lead to international isolation of the Islamic state.

In an interview with ISNA, Larijani made clear that he has "ideological differences" with Ahmadinejad and further criticized the president's economic policies, which has led in the last two years to astronomic inflation in the country, harming especially those who in 2005 voted for him due to his economic reform promises.

The main pro-Ahmadinejad faction is called "Nice Smell of Service," but besides the reformist-moderate coalition, even the conservatives have gradually distanced themselves form the presidential camp, mainly in the fear that they might be affected by widespread popular protests against the government's poor economic performance.

At stake are 290 seats, including 30 for Tehran, which is politically the most important constituency.

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