TEHRAN — More than 500 liberal-leaning candidates have withdrawn from this week's legislative elections, the Interior Ministry said Saturday, apparently to protest the disqualification of thousands of reformist contenders by Iran's hard-line clerics.
The candidates, who are not affiliated with any party, join a boycott by reformist parties of elections scheduled for Friday. Now, nearly all of the 5,600 candidates are hard-liners who seem certain to win amid expected low voter turnout.
"So far, 550 candidates have withdrawn from the elections," the Interior Ministry said on its website, without giving a reason for the withdrawals.
The furor over the elections -- Iran's worst political crisis in decades -- began when the unelected clerics of the Guardian Council, a review panel, banned more than 2,400 candidates. Nearly all are supporters of efforts to expand Western-style democracy and loosen strict interpretations of Islamic codes in areas such as social activities and the media.
The council, led by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, reinstated about 1,100 candidates after sit-ins and other protests by liberal politicians and backers. The rest remained blackballed -- all leading reformists, including 80 lawmakers.
Aside from hard-liners, that left only minor liberal contenders on the ballot, and many of them have dropped out.
"I was approved on the basis of the [supreme] leader's order and not according to defined legal procedure," said former candidate Aboulfazl Raouf. "I see this against my dignity as an Iranian citizen."
In the absence of rivals, conservatives are expected to easily win. The biggest challenge will probably be persuading apathetic and disillusioned citizens to vote in an election seen as flawed and undemocratic.
A government survey predicted that only about 30% of 46 million eligible voters would cast ballots. More than 67% of voters took part in parliamentary elections in 2000, giving reformists control of the 290-seat chamber for the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.