TEHRAN, Jan. 26 (UPI) -- A political crisis over Iran's upcoming parliamentary elections intensified Monday as the country's hard-line Guardian Council vetoed an emergency electoral bill aimed at restricting the power of the watchdog body in screening aspiring candidates.
The bill, comprising two clauses to amend the existing election law, was passed by the reformist-dominated Parliament on Sunday under the category of "triple urgent" -- the highest designation of importance for legislation used when Parliament feels the country is in serious political or military danger. Such a designation has not been employed since an Islamic regime was established in Iran in 1979.
One clause required the council to allow all candidates or sitting members of Parliament approved in past elections to seek office unless there were solid legal evidence against them.
The other clause, openly aimed at eliminating politically motivated disqualifications, envisaged that anyone, whose record is in question, could run in the contest if their qualifications were endorsed by at least 10 local confidants.
Earlier this month, the vetting council barred almost half of the 8,157 hopefuls, including 83 sitting lawmakers, from running in the Feb. 20 elections, setting off, what analysts have called, Iran's worst political crisis in years.
Most of those banned have been accused of being disloyal to Islamic values and the establishment, including "practical" commitment to a key article of the Constitution and guiding principle of Iran's Islamic theocracy, the Velayat-e-Faqih or Islamic jurisprudence.
The act, seen as an attempt to assure a new hard-line control of the 290-seat parliament, provoked strong anger among reformists.
Dozens of deputies have continued their sit-in protest in the Parliament building for a third consecutive week, while many senior officials, including President Mohammad Khatami, have threatened to resign.
On Saturday, the Iranian press published a list, naming 76 deputy ministers who had tendered their resignations to Khatami.
The move by protesting legislators has also been supported widely by university lecturers, while students, who so far having kept silent over the crisis, are planning to organize mass protests to denounce hard-liners, according to a student leader who declined to be identified.
Being under immense pressure to take decisive measures, Khatami has heavily criticized the disqualifications, calling for "healthy, free and competitive elections," but, at the same time, appealing for calm.
In his latest reaction to the council's "slow" reviewing of the blacklist, Khatami issued Saturday a joint statement with parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karroubi, demanding a "full review" of the disqualified candidates.
Last week, in a bid to defuse the row, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei asked the council to reconsider the disqualifications.
However, the powerful body, whose members of six clerics and an equal number of Islamic lawyers are directly or indirectly appointed by Khamenei, has, so far, reinstated only some 350 candidates, none of whom are sitting MPs.
Having pledged to be "lenient," the council promised a thorough revision of disqualifications by the end of the month.
"We will yield to what the leader has told us to do, that is to be lenient with the candidates, but within the framework of the law," the council's secretary, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, said at the weekly prayers in Tehran on Friday. He was apparently referring to reformers' charges that the council had been defying Khamenei's orders.
Reacting to the veto, reformist Deputy Mohsen Armin was quoted Monday as having said the Guardian Council had shown it had no will to resolve the crisis logically.
"It only makes MPs adopt a stronger position and seriously consider mass resignations and boycotting the elections," he said, echoing previous warnings by the reform-controlled Interior Ministry that it would not be ready to hold elections if the situation persisted.
Armin, known for his sharp tongue, had earlier predicted Khatami would not be able to finish his term in office (ending June 2005) if the crisis were not resolved in the favor of reformists.
"Khatami cannot back down and show the lack of resolve we have seen from him in the past," he said, according to media reports last week. "Vacillation and incertitude on this instance will translate into the closing of Khatami's chapter and his reform agenda."
With neither side appearing to relinquish its position and considering previous threats also by some leading reformist parties of a boycott of the polls, analysts say the recent veto could even lead to greater political chaos in coming days.
Despite public silence so far toward the mounting political standoff, some observers predict that if the situation is not resolved in the next one or two weeks' time, the country could see the public react by demonstrating in the streets of Tehran either in support or opposition to the protesting lawmakers.
But political events in Iran, as the pro-reform English-language newspaper Iran News put it Sunday, are "unpredictable," so that the situation could "turn on a dime."
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