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.


Iran warns of lengthy ‘new way of life’ as virus deaths rise

An Iranian army soldier walks through a temporary hospital in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, March 26, 2020. (AP)
Updated 30 March 2020

Iran warns of lengthy ‘new way of life’ as virus deaths rise

  • Without an official lockdown in place, the government has repeatedly urged Iranians to stay home “as much as possible”

TEHRAN: President Hassan Rouhani has warned that “the new way of life” in Iran was likely to be prolonged, as its declared death toll from the novel coronavirus rose to 2,640.
Iran is one of the countries worst-hit by the virus, which first originated in China.
Iran announced its first infection cases on Feb. 19, but a senior health official has acknowledged that the virus was likely to have already reached Iran in January.
At his daily news briefing, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said 123 more people in Iran had died from the virus in the past 24 hours.
He reported 2,901 new cases of COVID-19 infection, bringing the overall number of officially confirmed cases to 38,309.
According to the official, 12,391 of those hospitalized have recovered and 3,467 are in “critical” condition.
“We must prepare to live with this virus until a treatment or vaccine is discovered, which has not yet happened to date,” President Hassan Rouhani said in a Cabinet meeting.
“The new way of life we have adopted” is to everyone’s benefit, he said, adding that “these changes will likely have to stay in place for some time.”
After weeks of refraining from imposing lockdown or quarantine measures, Tehran decided Wednesday to ban all intercity travel until at least April 8.
Without an official lockdown in place, the government has repeatedly urged Iranians to stay home “as much as possible.” Schools and universities in some provinces were closed in late February and the measure was later extended to the whole country.
After Rouhani’s warning, the reopening of schools following this year’s new year holidays of March 19 to April 3 appears unlikely.

FASTFACT

Iran announced its first infection cases on Feb. 19, but a senior health official has acknowledged that the virus was likely to have already reached Iran in January

On a positive note, Rouhani said he had been told by top health experts and doctors that “in some provinces we have passed the peak (of the epidemic) and are on a downward trajectory.”
Several Iranian government officials and notable figures have been infected by the new coronavirus, some of whom have died.
The most recent case of infection was Mohammed-Reza Khatami, brother of former president Mohammad Khatami and an ex-deputy speaker of parliament.
He is currently hospitalized.
Iraj Harirchi, a deputy health minister who tested positive for the virus in late February, has returned to public life and appeared on state television to emphasize safety precautions.