Sunday, February 10, 2008
Revolutionary Guards back conservatives for Iran pollby Siavosh GhaziSat Feb 9, 11:28 AM ET
Iran's Revolutionary Guards commander, in a break with accepted practice, has openly called for voters to support the conservative wing in parliamentary polls, Iranian media reported on Saturday.
General Mohammad Ali Jafari, head of the Islamic republic's ideological army, said: "To follow the path of the Islamic revolution, support for the Principalists (conservatives) is necessary, inevitable and a divine duty of all revolutionary groups."
It was the first time that Jafari, speaking to officials of the Basij, or Islamic militia, had come out so clearly in backing the conservatives, who seized power at the last elections when many moderates and reformists were barred from standing.
Leaders of Iran frequently warn that the military should not intervene directly in the country's political affairs.
Jafari, who was appointed Guards commander last September, also took over as head of the Basij militia, which according to official figures, has more than 10 million members nationwide.
The Revolutionary Guards, or Pasdarans, was set up in 1979 by a decree of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic republic, and answers directly to his successor as Iran's supreme guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
It is estimated to have between 120,000 and 350,000 members.
Under the constitution, they are tasked with defending the Islamic revolution against external and internal enemies.
In recent years they have played an increasing role in state affairs, not only political but also in the economic field.
The reports on Saturday said Jafari told the officials that conservatives now controlled the executive and legislative, and "if the Basij members want to preserve this current and develop it, they must eliminate weak points."
The interior ministry in the first phase of the vetting process last month for the March 14 elections banned more than 2,000 mainly reformist candidates from standing in next month's elections.
The spokesman for the umbrella coalition of reformist parties, Abdollah Nasseri, said his forces were only competitive in 10 percent of parliamentary constituencies after the mass vetoing of candidates.
Iran's ex-president Mohammad Khatami earlier this month labelled the mass disqualification of reformist candidates for parliamentary elections as a "catastrophe" which threatens the Islamic revolution, the press reported.
"The disqualification by the executive committees is a catastrophe," Khatami said in a furious attack on the vetting process, overseen by hardliners.
The second phase of vetting is now being carried out by supervisory committees of the hardline Guardians Council, which conducts further investigations into the hopefuls.
Khomeini's own grandson Ali Eshragi was disqualified after investigators asked neighbours questions over his personal life, it emerged last Wednesday.
The Guardians Council itself will give the final say on the candidates and is to publish the final list of those allowed to stand on March 4.