Iran poll in disarray with thousands barred from standing

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Campaigners hand out electoral leaflets to people outside a mosque in the Iranian capital Tehran on Feb. 14, 2020. (AFP)
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A man standing outside a mosque in the Iranian capital Tehran on Feb. 14, 2020 hands out electoral leaflets showing candidates campaigining in the upcoming Iranian legislative election due to take place on February 21. (AFP)
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Updated 14 February 2020

Iran poll in disarray with thousands barred from standing

  • Minister’s Twitter gaffe leaves Tehran red-faced as leadership divide widens
  • Iran’s hard-line Guardian Council, which oversaw the vetting process for applicants seeking to take part in the week-long campaign, on Thursday blocked 6,850 people from standing

DUBAI: Iran’s parliamentary elections were thrown into turmoil after thousands of potential candidates were excluded from standing.
The elections, due to take place on Feb. 21, will be the first test of the government since protests erupted across the country in the aftermath of the downing of a Ukrainian airliner by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in January.
Iran’s hard-line Guardian Council, which oversaw the vetting process for applicants seeking to take part in the week-long campaign, on Thursday blocked 6,850 people from standing, as well as a third of the country’s current lawmakers seeking re-election.
Around 14,000 applications were made to the council. Of Iran’s 83 million population, almost 58 million are eligible to vote.
“The 7,150 candidates who are running for parliamentary elections have started campaigning,” Iranian state TV reported on Thursday.
Many of those barred from standing are said to be moderates, with some claiming none had been allowed to stand in some towns and districts altogether. 
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, himself a moderate, criticized the disqualifications by the conservative-dominated Guardian Council, claiming citizens, not the council, should have “the right to choose” their parliamentarians.
However, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei backed the council, saying that in the current climate, the country’s parliament could not host those “unafraid” to speak out against “foreign enemies.”
The Guardian Council has also sought to justify a number of its decisions, claiming various parties had been disqualified from standing over “corruption” or “unfaithfulness to Islam.”
Both Rouhani and Khamenei have called for a high turnout, despite their differing stances on the council, as a response to the ramping up of tensions between Tehran and the US.
 

Opinion

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Iran is in the grip of an economic crisis, partially as a result of sanctions imposed by Washington, following the US withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal signed with former US leader Barack Obama.
The situation escalated following the assassination of IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani in a US drone attack at Baghdad airport in January, which led to Iran launching retaliatory strikes against US bases in the wider region and, ultimately, the fateful downing of the Ukrainian passenger jet. 
In the wake of January’s events, the elections are seen by many as a litmus test for the popularity of Iran’s hard-liners, led by Khamenei. Some fear Rouhani’s previous pledges to liberalize the country’s repressive social and political structure may be sacrificed to give the regime a favorable outcome.
The furor surrounding the poll comes in the same week as a senior government minister caused embarrassment for the government on social media, after mistakenly presenting a children’s costume as the country’s potential official space agency flight suit, just days after said agency failed to send a satellite into orbit.
Information and Communications Technology Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi apologized for posting the image of a Halloween costume on Twitter, allegedly by members of his staff, on Wednesday.
The image, since deleted, showed what appeared to be a children’s costume with an Iranian flag patch sown onto it.
Jahromi apologized to Iran’s scientific community for the “undeniable” mistake, adding that the country’s space program was “unstoppable.”
In 2019, the Islamic Republic failed in two other attempts to launch satellites. It also suffered a launchpad explosion in August, while a fire at the Imam Khomenei Space Center in February the same year killed three people.
The US has accused Iran of using its space program as a cover for the development of ballistic missiles.


‘No way we can rebuild’: Lebanese count huge losses after Beirut blast

Updated 07 August 2020

‘No way we can rebuild’: Lebanese count huge losses after Beirut blast

  • The search for those missing since Tuesday’s blast intensified overnight, as rescuers sifted rubble in a frantic race to find anyone still alive after the explosion
  • The government has promised a full investigation and put several port employees under house arrest

BEIRUT: Beirut residents began trying to rebuild their shattered lives on Friday after the biggest blast in the Lebanese capital’s history tore into the city, killing at least 154 and leaving the heavily indebted nation with another huge reconstruction bill.
The search for those missing since Tuesday’s blast intensified overnight, as rescuers sifted rubble in a frantic race to find anyone still alive after the explosion smashed a swathe of the city and sent shockwaves around the region.
Security forces fired teargas at a furious crowd late on Thursday, as anger boiled over at the government and a political elite, who have presided over a nation that was facing economic collapse even before the deadly port blast injured 5,000 people.
The small crowd, some hurling stones, marked a return to the kind of protests that had become a feature of life in Beirut, as Lebanese watched their savings evaporate and currency disintegrate, while government decision-making floundered.
“There is no way we can rebuild this house. Where is the state?” Tony Abdou, an unemployed 60-year-old, sitting in the family home in Gemmayze, a district that lies a few hundred meters from the port warehouses where highly explosive material was stored for years, a ticking time bomb next to a densely populated area.
As Abdou spoke, a domestic water boiler fell through the ceiling of his cracked home, while volunteers from the neighborhood turned out on the street to sweep up debris.
“Do we actually have a government here?” said taxi driver Nassim Abiaad, 66, whose cab was crushed by falling building wreckage just as he was about to get into the vehicle.
“There is no way to make money anymore,” he said.
The government has promised a full investigation and put several port employees under house arrest. State news agency NNA said 16 people were taken into custody. But for many Lebanese, the explosion was symptomatic of the years of neglect by the authorities while state corruption thrived.
Shockwaves
Officials have said the blast, whose seismic impact was recorded hundreds of miles (kilometers) away, might have caused losses amounting to $15 billion — a bill the country cannot pay when it has already defaulted on its mountain of national debt, exceeding 150% of economic output, and talks about a lifeline from the International Monetary Fund have stalled.
Hospitals, many heavily damaged as shockwaves ripped out windows and pulled down ceilings, have been overwhelmed by the number of casualties. Many were struggling to find enough foreign exchange to buy supplies before the explosion.
In the port area, rescue teams set up arc lights to work through the night in a dash to find those still missing, as families waited tensely, slowly losing hope of ever seeing loved ones again. Some victims were hurled into the sea because of the explosive force.
The weeping mother of one of the missing called a prime time TV program on Thursday night to plead with the authorities to find her son, Joe. He was found — dead — hours later.
Lebanese Red Cross Secretary General George Kettaneh told local radio VDL that three more bodies had been found in the search, while the health minister said on Friday the death toll had climbed to 154. Dozens are still unaccounted for.
Charbel Abreeni, who trained port employees, showed Reuters pictures on his phone of killed colleagues. He was sitting in a church where the head from the statue of the Virgin Mary had been blown off.
“I know 30 port employees who died, two of them are my close friends and a third is missing,” said the 62-year-old, whose home was wrecked in the blast. His shin was bandaged.
“I have nowhere to go except my wife’s family,” he said. “How can you survive here, the economy is zero?“
Offers of immediate medical and food aid have poured in from Arab states, Western nations and beyond. But none, so far, address the bigger challenges facing a bankrupt nation.
French President Emmanuel Macron came to the city on Thursday with a cargo from France. He promised to explain some “home truths” to the government, telling them they needed to root out corruption and deliver economic reforms.
He was greeted on the street by many Lebanese who asked for help in ensuring “regime” change, so a new set of politicians could rebuild Beirut and set the nation on a new course.
Beirut still bore scars from heavy shelling in the 1975-1990 civil war before the blast. After the explosion, chunks of the city once again look like a war zone.