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The BBC's Jim Muir reports
"The reformists are predicted to win despite their fragmentation."
 real 28k

The BBC's Jim Muir reports
"The elimination's were not as harsh as in the past"
 real 28k

Thursday, 10 February, 2000, 00:08 GMT
Iranian election campaign begins

President Khatami President Khatami's supporters are set to make gains

Campaigning in Iran's general elections is due to begin on Thursday with reformists hoping to win control of the parliament from the conservatives.

It follows an announcement on Tuesday by the right-wing Guardian Council that 6,083 out of 6,856 applicants would be allowed to stand as candidates in the 18 February poll.

The moderate Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, has apologised to the 576 disqualified applicants who are predominantly from the reformist camp.

Iranians walk past a poster urging them to vote Iranians are being urged to vote
"If there are people who feel their rights have been violated in some way, I apologise to them as a humble servant," the Mosharekat daily quoted the president as saying during an official function.

His comment has been interpreted as a gesture of solidarity with the barred candidates, who included some well-known figures from the tolerated opposition and the more radical fringes of the reformist camp.

However, even the reformists have admitted that the vetting by the Guardian Council - a group of conservative clerics and lawyers who regulate elections - was much less radical than in the past.

That alone makes this election more free and competitive than many before in Iran.

The flourishing of the Iranian press since President Khatami was elected nearly three years ago is another factor making this election different.

Fragmented opposition

So too is the fact that this time there is a much larger number of clearly defined parties and factions competing for the votes, especially on the reformist side of the divide.

For them, that may prove a distinct electoral disadvantage.

There are 18 separate groups in the reformist coalition. In key constituencies such as Teheran, which has 30 seats, they have been unable to agree on a common list of candidates.

That means they will, in many cases, be competing with one another, as well as with their real adversaries, the conservatives.

Most of the predictions, nonetheless, favour a majority for the reformists.

The conservatives are generally believed to have lost much public support, but they may make up for that by being more cohesive than their fragmented opponents.

In personality terms this election is likely to be dominated by two men.

reza Mohammed Reza Khatami: Predicts defeat for conservatives
One is the pragmatic and wily former president Hashami Rafsanjani, whose candidacy has divided the reformists.

The other is President Khatami's younger brother, Mohammed Reza, who heads the largest of the reformist parties, the Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPP).

He resigned as his brother's deputy health minister to stand in the elections and has quickly become the darling of the pro-reform press, in part because of his politically bankable name.

He said the conservatives, who have dominated recent parliaments, could get less than 25% in the polls.

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See also:
09 Feb 00 |  Middle East
Khatami apologises to barred candidates
30 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Poll test for Iran reformists
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