Reuters: Iran’s supreme leader implicitly endorsed hardliners seeking to tighten their grip on parliament by urging voters on Wednesday to shun candidates backed by Western “enemies” in Friday’s election. By Firouz Sedarat
TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran’s supreme leader implicitly endorsed hardliners seeking to tighten their grip on parliament by urging voters on Wednesday to shun candidates backed by Western “enemies” in Friday’s election.
“Whoever is favored by our enemies to be in the ruling and legislative bodies of our country should not be sent there because he would act as the enemies want,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a speech broadcast on state television.
It was the clearest statement yet by Khamenei, Iran’s highest authority, on the March 14 vote to the 290-seat legislature which conservatives are confident of winning after many leading reformists were barred from running.
And his comments were likely to please President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has stonewalled the United States and its Western allies with hardline rhetoric over Iran’s nuclear program.
Friday’s vote is a popularity test for Ahmadinejad, who is expected to seek re-election in 2009 despite being criticized at home for his foreign and economic policies.
“Whoever Iran’s enemy does not want … in parliament should be there because he would serve Iran’s interests,” Khamenei said.
He did not name reform-minded groups seeking political and social change, who conservatives portray as Western lackeys bidding to undermine the Islamic state.
Reformist leaders reject these allegations but say the odds of winning seats are heavily stacked against them after their leading candidates were banned in a pre-vote vetting process.
Ties between Washington and Tehran were cut shortly after Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, in which the U.S.-backed shah was ousted. The two states are now embroiled in a deepening standoff over the Islamic Republic’s disputed nuclear ambitions.
“What the Americans want contradicts the interests of Iran,” Khamenei said.
Even though conservative factions are expected to retain their dominance of parliament, they include long-time rivals of Ahmadinejad and others who have deserted him over his handling of the $280 billion economy.
He has been blamed for stoking inflation by profligate spending of windfall oil revenues.
Critics also accuse him of isolating Iran with his hardline rhetoric against Western powers which suspect that Iran’s nuclear program is aimed at building bombs. Tehran says it is aimed at generating electricity.
Khamenei tends to stay above the fray of day-to-day politics but has nonetheless called Ahmadinejad’s government the most popular in 100 years and has praised his handling of the nuclear standoff with the West.
Khamenei said that those candidates who had not “drawn clear lines between themselves and the enemies and their puppets” were not the best people for office.
He called for a high turnout in Friday’s vote which he said was counter to what Iran’s foes wanted.
(Writing by Fredrik Dahl)