Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini appealed on television tonight for a massive turnout in the first round of parliamentary elections Friday, but his very frailty underscored that the real stakes are political power and a future Iran without him.
In addition to being the last of the major revolutionary institutions to be put to a vote, the legislative elections may hold the key to the ultimate resolution of the hostage problem since Khomeini has decreed that the parliament will decide the fate of the estimated 50 Americans held since Nov. 4.
President Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr indirectly warned against voting for his right-wing clerical political enemies who joined the hostages' radical captors to frustrate his plans to transfer the Americans to government authorities.
He noted a recent opinion poll indicating that 45 percent of the eligible electorate does not know how to vote or whether they want to.
"If this tendency continues," Bani-Sadr said, "the first Majlis [parliament] of the republic will be weak, and a weak Majlis will not only be unable to participate effectively in the leadership of the country and guarantee political stability, but will come under pressure from currents outside the Majlis and will have to follow them." u
Cautioning against an "uncoordinated and incoherent parliament in a country with too many centers of power and decision-making," the president insisted the new parliament must coordinate with them. "The present and future of Iran depends on the decision Iranians make Friday," he said.
Yet, in many ways, Bani-Sadr's comments underscored his own shortcomings. Somewhat inexplicably, he has proved incapable since his impressive Jan. 25 presidental victory of organizing an effective party likely to win a parliamentary majority.
In Tehran he has fielded candidates for fewer than half the seats at stake.
A similar pattern exists in the rest of the country.
Favored to emerge with the biggest single bloc of seats, but without an absolute majority, is the right-wing clerical Islamic Republican Party, which pushed through the election regulations.
The Interior Ministry has swept aside objections from various smaller or regional groups, refusing Bani-Sadr's request to lift a ban on the Kurdistan Democratic Party and banning some, but not all, Marxist candidates. Those of the pro-Moscow Tudheh Communist Party seem to have been spared.
If any Marxist candidates do win, they may be disqualified on grounds that they are atheists who do not respect the constitution of the Islamic Republic.
In Sanandaj, a particularly turbulent Kurdish city, the Interior Ministry simply "suspended" the election, apparently canceling the vote there entirely.
Despite the Islamic Republican Party's seeming advantages, specialists say there is a strong anti-clerical feeling in the country. Many mullahs also are said to be opposed to what they consider the excessess of the Islamic Republican Party and were instrumental in helping Bani-Sadr win an impressive 75 percent of the presidential vote.
In Tehran, many middle-class Iranians educated in or oriented toward the West are backing candidates presented by the Mujaheddin, the left-wing Islamic guerrilla group that has transformed itself into a party since the revolution.
The middle-class reasoning seems to be that the Mujaheddin are neither clerical nor Marxists and thus provide the best chance for a pluralistic political view to be expressed in the new parliament.
The parliamentary election voting procedure is considered one of the most confusing and complicated ever devised for a Third World country. An estimated half the eligible voters here are illiterate.
Interior Ministry statistics show that 3,500 candidates are vying for 270 seats nationwide. In Tehran, 358 candidates are disputing 30 seats in a single citywide constituency.
All candidates' names appear with numbers alongside them on a single ballot that bears no party affiliation, symbols or colors to help illiterate voters.
Specialists fear the downward trend of voter participation in post-revolutionary balloting will continue. They note that only two-thirds of eligible voters exercised their rights in the presidential elections in January, down from the more than 90 percent that took part in the March, 1979 referendum abolishing the monarchy and establishing the Islamic Republic.
Deprived of radio and television time, the candidates and their parties have resorted to public speeches, handbills and placards at street corners announcing the numbers of their representatives on the ballots.
"It's a little like ordering dishes at a Chinese restaurant," one analyst remarked.
Despite coalitions and endorsements from otherwise rival poltitical groups, few candidates are expected to fulfill the requirement of an absolute majority on the first ballot, least of all in Tehran or other big cities where there are multiple seats at stake.
A run-off vote is scheduled but no firm date has been mentioned, and the first-round results in Tehran may take most of the week to be announced.
Much to the anger of the small parties, especially of the left, the ruling Revolutionary Council and the Interior Ministry have insisted on the two-tier run-off system, which favors the big parties.
Bani-Sadr has gone along with the Revolutionary Council majority, but his newspaper, Islamic Revolution, pointedly published a poll indicating that Tehran residents favor a single proportional representation kind of vote by nearly a 2-to-1 margin.