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.
 

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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.


‘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.”