TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's supreme leader ordered the hardline constitutional watchdog to reconsider its decision barring reformist candidates from running in next month's presidential elections, state-run television reported Monday.
The Guardian Council (search), which vets the election candidates, on Sunday rejected all the reformists registered to run in next month's presidential elections. The council rejected all but six of the 1,000 hopeful candidates — including all women.
"It's appropriate that all individuals in the country be given the choice from various political tendencies," Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (search) said in his decree addressed to Guardian Council chief Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati.
"Therefore, it seems that [the] qualification of Mr. Moin and Mr. Mehralizadeh be reconsidered," the television quoted Khamenei's decree as saying, referring to the two most prominent reformists disqualified, Mostafa Moin and Vice President Mohsen Mehralizadeh.
The announcement Sunday prompted a crisis meeting by reformers, who immediately threatened to boycott the election.
"We are warning the Guardian Council that we will not participate in the election if it doesn't reverse its decision," Rajabali Mazrouei, a top member of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front (search), told The Associated Press.
"Barring reform candidates means there will be no free or fair election," he said.
There was similar outrage last year when the Council — which supervises the elections — disqualified more than 2,000 reformists from legislative elections, leading to a low turnout. Reformists denounced that vote as a "historical fiasco."
The council's announcement, however, appeared to be the final decision and effectively leaves reformers seeking democratic changes within the ruling Islamic establishment without a candidate.
Ruling clerics are seeking to consolidate their power following the departure of President Mohammad Khatami (search), a reformist who is barred from seeking another term.
Khatami came to power in a popular landslide in 1997, but hard-line clerics led by Khamenei have succeeded in stifling his program for political and social reform.
The approved candidates for the June 17 presidential race included the powerful former President Hashemi Rafsanjani (search), who moves frequently between the hard-line and more moderate camps and was seen as a front-runner.
Other approved candidates were former police chief Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf; former radio and television chief Ali Larijani; Tehran Mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; former head of the elite Revolutionary Guards Mohsen Rezaei; and former parliamentary speaker Mahdi Karroubi.
Karroubi has some support among reform-minded voters who remain loyal to the clerical establishment, such as hard-line clerics who have moderated their views somewhat. He is, however, unpopular among young Iranians, who are the majority of the population and who are inclined toward sweeping reforms.
Former Culture Minister Mostafa Moin, who was the sole candidate of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, was among those disqualified. Another top reformist hopeful was Vice President Mohsen Mehralizadeh, who heads Iran's sports organization.
The Guardian Council said in a statement that its announcement did not mean the other registrants could not get other government posts.
The Council is controlled by hard-liners loyal to Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters. The council barred women from running for the office.
The presidential election comes as Iran is facing international pressure over its controversial nuclear program, trying to convince the United States and Europe that it is not seeking to develop weapons.
Moin was the only hopeful who supported continued suspension of all uranium enrichment-related activities by Iran to avoid a nuclear crisis and reach a political compromise with the Europeans.
Iran has vowed to restart some uranium reprocessing activities soon, saying it will unilaterally resume such activities if last chance talks with Europeans fail later this week.
Rezaei, Larijani, Ahmadinejad and Qalibaf are widely seen as Khamenei candidates because of their strong loyalty to him.
With the reformist movement severely weakened, Rafsanjani is seen as the most credible force to stop hard-line allies of Iran's supreme leader from seizing the post of president — although the savvy politician has changed his stripes frequently in the past.
Saeed Leylaz, a political analyst, suggested hard-liners were hoping to avoid a candidate, like Moin, who has the support of young people.
"For hard-liners, Khatami's victory was equal to allowing the predominantly young nation criticizing the ruling establishment. Allowing Moin to run may repeat that historical event. They don't to take such a risk again," he said.
Leylaz said the disqualification of reformers undermines the legitimacy of the elections.
"Apparently hard-liners prefer discrediting the country rather than giving up power despite unpopularity," he said.