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Iran Election Campaign Nears Close

February 16, 2000

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ Rushed election workers handed colored pamphlets to passers-by and candidates prepared for final rallies today, on the last day of campaigning for Iran’s parliamentary elections.

A record 5,824 candidates are contesting Friday’s poll, a sign of growing confidence in the electoral process that many Iranians hope will lead to the easing of the strict Islamic rules that have been in place for the last two decades.

More than 38 million people above the age of 16 are eligible to vote for the 290-member parliament. Reformist President Mohammad Khatami’s supporters hope a big turnout will help them.

Two senior hard-line clerics, Nouri Hamedani and Mohammed Fazel Lankarani, urged voters to show up in large numbers to support the ideals of Islam.

During the last 2 1/2 years, Khatami has tried to ease the Islam-inspired social and political restrictions imposed by the clergy after it took power in the 1979 Islamic revolution. The press has become freer, people have begun to question the clergy and women have tested the limits of the strict dress codes that require them to be completely covered except for their faces and hands.

``The most important issue for me is my freedom. ... I should be able to say what I want, do what I want,″ said Farangeez Haqiqat.

As she spoke, young men walked by, stuffing leaflets into the hands of pedestrians.

One leaflet carried the picture of candidate Hossein Farrokhi with a testimony of support from a top movie actress, Mahaya Petrossian, whose picture was also on the pamphlet. Another leaflet showed Mehdi Zad Bahtoui wearing a necktie, which the Iranian government has long considered un-Islamic.

The necktie and the use of a female actress as a campaign prop are signs of how Iranians are testing the limits of what was considered out of bounds until a few years ago.

Friday’s elections will break ground in other ways too. A record 424 female candidates are contesting. Also, for the first time, only those with college and theology degrees are being allowed to run.

Still, the reformists face an uphill task.

The hard-liners are vehemently opposed to liberalization and they retain control over crucial institutions.

And even if the reformists win a majority in Parliament, or Majlis, they still can be blocked.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who backs the conservatives, has the final say on all matters. He can veto the president, and controls the army, judiciary, and the state-run radio and television.

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