Record number of candidates blocked from Iran election

This widespread discrimination against reformist candidates could mean the final death knell for the Iran nuclear deal. (File/AFP)
Short Url
Updated 11 February 2020

Record number of candidates blocked from Iran election

  • The disqualifications make a hard-liner parliament significantly more likely

LONDON: With parliamentary elections due on Feb. 21, Iran’s clerical establishment has blocked more candidates from running than at any time since the 1979 revolution.

In addition, the Guardian Council — comprising 12 senior religious and legal scholars appointed by Iran’s supreme leader — has
used its sweeping power over elections to prevent 90 percent of reformist candidates from running for office.

Roughly 9,000 people, including 90 sitting MPs, have been blocked from running on grounds ranging from financial irregularities and drug use to “not being faithful to Islam.”

The disqualifications make a hard-liner parliament significantly more likely, despite the popularity of reformists in the last election. 

In 2016, reformists and their allies swept to victory with 41 percent of the vote, compared with just 29 percent for hard-liners. 

Criticism of the bans has erupted in Iran, with the reformist policymaking High Council accusing the Guardian Council of bias against its candidates.

If the Guardian Council continues on this path, the High Council said, 230 out of 290 seats will have no reformist candidates, and 160 constituencies will have no competitor.

President Hassan Rouhani has spoken out against the Guardian Council, saying: “We can’t simply announce that 1,700 candidates have been approved and ignore the question of how many political groups those people represent. That’s not what an election is about.”

This widespread discrimination against reformist candidates could mean the final death knell for the Iran nuclear deal, said Ellie Geranmayeh, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. 

“A swing of parliament to a conservative and hard-line majority will make political life harder for the remaining supporters of the Iran nuclear deal in government,” she added.

“If Iran’s Guardian Council resort to mass disqualification of the reformists to weaken the Rouhani government, then this will only further erode the legitimacy of the parliamentary system.”

FASTFACT

Roughly 9,000 people, including 90 sitting MPs, have been blocked from running on grounds ranging from financial irregularities and drug use to ‘not being faithful to Islam.’

Despite parliament’s limited power, it does have influence over “bread and butter issues,” said Sanam Vakil, deputy director for the Middle East program at Chatham House. 

She added that while parliament cannot directly influence foreign policy, “it can contribute to a hard-line populist atmosphere creating a climate around foreign policy. It can, for instance, call for the impeachment of the president, and has in the past.”

Iranian parliamentary elections also set the tone for future presidential elections, Vakil said, and even “for the succession to (Supreme Leader Ali) Khamenei.”

The Guardian Council began barring candidates in January while the country was wracked by countrywide protests, Dr. Mahsa Rouhi, research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said at the time.

Those protests were in response to the government’s downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane and the subsequent cover-up.


‘Social explosion’ in Lebanese camps imminent, warn officials

Updated 21 February 2020

‘Social explosion’ in Lebanese camps imminent, warn officials

  • Situation volatile as Palestinian refugees face economic crisis after US peace plan

BEIRUT: Authorities are battling to prevent “a social explosion” among Palestinian refugees crammed into camps in Lebanon, a top official has revealed.

Fathi Abu Al-Ardat, secretary of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) factions in Lebanon, told Arab News that urgent measures were being put in place to try and stop the “crisis” situation getting out of control.

“Conditions in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are very difficult due to the economic crisis facing the country, and we are trying to delay a social explosion in the camps and working on stopgap solutions,” he said.

And Dr. Hassan Mneimneh, the head of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC), said: “More Palestinian refugees from the camps in Lebanon are immigrating. Embassies are receiving immigration requests, and Canada is inundated with a wave of immigration because its embassy has opened doors to applications.”

According to a population census conducted in 2017 by the Central Administration of Statistics in Lebanon, in coordination with the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), there are 174,422 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon spread across 12 camps and nearby compounds.

Mneimneh insisted the figure was accurate despite the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) estimating there to be 459,292 refugees in the country. He said: “The census we had conducted refers to the current reality in Lebanon.”

He added that he feared “increased pressure on European donor countries over UNRWA in the coming days after the unilateral implementation of the ‘Deal of the Century’ (the US peace plan for the Middle East) by Israel.

“Israel’s goal is to undermine UNRWA’s mission as a prelude to ending the Palestinian cause and, thus, preventing the return of Palestinians.”

Mneimneh held a meeting on Wednesday with two Lebanese and Palestinian action groups in Lebanon to discuss Palestinian asylum issues in light of the American peace plan. There were no representatives of Hezbollah or Hamas present at the talks.

He said: “This deal kick-starts an unusual stage that carries the most serious risks not only to the Palestinian people and cause, but also to the other countries and entities in the Arab region.

“The first of these is Lebanon, which senses the danger of this announcement in view of the clauses it contains to eliminate the Palestinian cause, including the refugee issue and the possibility of their settlement in the host countries.”

Al-Ardat said: “Palestinian refugees have no choice but to withstand the pressures on them to implement the so-called ‘Deal of the Century.’ What is proposed is that we sell our country for promises, delusions, and $50 billion distributed to three countries. Palestine is not for sale.”

He pointed out that “the camps in Lebanon resorted to family solidarity in coordination with the shops in the camps. Whoever does not have money can go to the shop after two (2 p.m.) in the afternoon and get vegetables for free.

“We have been securing 7,000 packs of bread to distribute in the camps and buying the same amount to sell the pack at 500 liras. But this does not solve the problem.”

He added: “The PLO leadership continues to perform its duty toward the refugees and, until now, we have not been affected by the restrictions imposed by banks in Lebanon, and refugees are still receiving medical treatment.

“However, our concern now is that Palestinian refugees do not starve, taking into account all the indications that the situation in Lebanon will not improve soon.

“Twenty percent of the Palestinians in Lebanon receive wages either from UNRWA — as they work there — or from the PLO because they are affiliated with the factions, but 80 percent are unemployed and have no income.”

The meeting hosted by Mneimneh agreed “the categorical rejection of the ‘Deal of the Century’ because it means further erasing the identity existence of the Palestinian people as well as their national rights, especially their right to return and establish their independent state.

“It also means assassinating the Palestinian peoples’ legitimate rights and supporting Israel’s usurpation of international justice and 72 years of Arab struggle.

“The deal includes ambiguous, illegal and immoral approaches that contradict all relevant UN and Security Council resolutions, especially with regard to the establishment of the Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 and the inalienable right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland and establish their state with Jerusalem as its capital,” a statement on the meeting added.

“UNRWA must remain the living international witness to the ongoing suffering and tragedy of the Palestinian people, and UNRWA must continue to receive support.”

Attendees at the talks also recommended “improving the conditions of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon to strengthen the elements of their steadfastness until they return.” This was “based on the Unified Lebanese Vision for the Palestinian Refugees Affairs in Lebanon document, which includes the right to work.”