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)
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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.


‘We want to breathe, too’: Solidarity from Iraq

A mask-clad young Iraqi woman speaks to another during an anti-government demonstration in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, despite the ongoing threat of the novel coronavirus. (AFP)
Updated 12 min 38 sec ago

‘We want to breathe, too’: Solidarity from Iraq

  • Violence left more than 550 people dead, but virtually no one has been held accountable — mirroring a lack of accountability over deaths at the hands of security forces in the US, Iraqis say

BAGHDAD: Seventeen years after US troops invaded their country and eight months since protests engulfed their cities, Iraqis are sending solidarity, warnings and advice to demonstrators across America.
Whether in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square or on Twitter, Iraqis are closely watching the unprecedented street protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in Minneapolis as a police officer knelt on his neck.
“I think what the Americans are doing is brave and they should be angry, but rioting is not the solution,” said Yassin Alaa, a scrawny 20-year-old camped out in Tahrir.
Only a few dozen Iraqis remain in tents in the capital’s main protest square, which just months ago saw security forces fire tear gas and live bullets at demonstrators, who shot back with rocks or occasionally Molotov cocktails.
Violence left more than 550 people dead, but virtually no one has been held accountable — mirroring a lack of accountability over deaths at the hands of security forces in the US, Iraqis say. Now, they want to share their lessons learned.
“Don’t set anything on fire. Stay away from that, because the police will treat you with force right from the beginning and might react unpredictably,” Alaa told AFP.
And most importantly, he insisted, stick together. “If blacks and whites were united and they threw racism away, the system can never stop them,” he said.
Across their country, Iraqis spotted parallels between the roots of America’s protests and their own society.
“In the US it’s a race war, while here it’s a war of politics and religion,” said Haider Kareem, 31, who protested often in Tahrir and whose family lives in the US.
“But the one thing we have in common is the injustice we both suffer from,” he told AFP.
Iraq has its own history of racism, particularly against a minority of Afro-Iraqis in the south who trace their roots back to East Africa.
In 2013, leading Afro-Iraqi figure Jalal Thiyab was gunned down in the oil-rich city of Basra — but discrimination against the community is otherwise mostly nonviolent.
“Our racism is different than America’s racism,” said Ali Essam, a 34-year-old Afro-Iraqi who directed a wildly popular play about Iraq’s protests last year.
“Here, we joke about dark skin but in America, being dark makes people think you’re a threat,” he told AFP.
Solidarity is spreading online, too, with Iraqis tweaking their own protest chants and slogans to fit the US.
In one video, an elderly Iraqi is seen reciting a “hosa” or rhythmic chant, used to rally people into the streets last year and now adapted to an American context.
“This is a vow, this a vow! Texas won’t be quiet now,” he bellowed, before advising Americans to keep their rallies independent of foreign interference — mimicking a US government warning to Iraqis last year. Others shared the hashtag “America Revolts.”
Another Arabic hashtag going viral in Iraq translates as “We want to breathe, too,” referring to Floyd’s last words.
Not all the comparisons have been uplifting, however.
The governor of Minnesota, the state in which Minneapolis is located, said the US street violence “was reminiscent of Mogadishu or Baghdad.”
And the troops briefly deployed by US President Donald Trump to quell unrest in Washington were from the 82nd Airborne — which had just returned from duty in Iraq.
“Trump is using the American army against the American people,” said Democrat presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden.
Iraqis have fought back online, tweeting “Stop associating Baghdad with turmoil,” in response to comparisons with their homeland.
Others have used biting sarcasm.
In response to videos of crowds breaking into shops across US cities, Iraqis have dug up an infamous quote by ex-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
“Lawlessness and looting is a natural consequence of the transition from dictatorship to a free country,” he said in response to a journalist’s question on widespread looting and chaos in Baghdad following the 2003 US-led invasion.