Chief government spokesman and cabinet secretary Abd Allah Ramazanzadeh told news agency ISNA that the government could not "organise an election which is uncompetitive, unhealthy and not free".

He said "in all constituencies there should be real competition, and not a staged one, of all the people who are willing to compete legally and within the framework of the constitution".

Ramazanzadeh said this is "the only condition of the government", but added before the 20 February polls "one of the conditions for a fair competition is the time for campaigning".

Emergency meeting

But given the ongoing dispute over the mass barring of candidates by the Guardians Council - a conservative-run political watchdog - "the time for campaigning is becoming limited".

"In all constituencies there should be real competition, and not a staged one, of all the people who are willing to compete legally and within the framework of the constitution"

Abd Allah Ramazanzadeh,
Chief government spokesman

His comments came before an emergency meeting on Monday evening between Iran's top political leaders to discuss the crisis. 

"The meeting will include the Iranian President Muhammad Khatami, head of the Parliament Mahdi Kharubi, and the former Iranian President Hashimi Rafsanjani," Aljazeera's correspondent in Tehran said.

Under Iran's constitution, the interior ministry - currently held by political reformers - is in charge of organising elections and vote counting.

Barred candidates 

An undisclosed number of cabinet members have informed President Muhammad Khatami of their intention to resign if the crisis continues.

The Guardians Council, who are the protectors of the Islamic Republic, have barred more than 3500 candidates from the election.

However, President Khatami has urged the council to reconsider its blacklist, which it has promised to do before the end of the month.