Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has criticised the disqualification earlier this week of hundreds of people from running in Iran’s approaching parliamentary elections, saying the country "cannot be governed by one political wing alone".
The powerful Guardian Council of the Constitution has banned nearly one third of the current members of the 290-seat parliament from running in the elections scheduled for February 21. Another 800 other would-be candidates were disqualified by the Interior Ministry, according to state media. Most of those refused were reformist and moderate candidates, according to reformist daily Etemad.
In total, more than 5,000 people will be allowed to take part in the vote. That means around 17 candidates will compete for each parliamentary seat.
"Do not tell the people that for every seat in parliament, there are 17, 170 or 1,700 candidates running in the election," Rouhani, a moderate and pragmatic politician who is a member of the Moderation and Development Party, said. "Seventeen-hundred candidates from how many factions? Seventeen candidates from how many parties? From one party? This is not an election," he added.
The disqualification of MPs aligned with the Rouhani faction is seen in some circles in Iran as part of a hardline push to oust the president and his supporters. Rouhani, re-elected with a landslide in 2017, has faced intense criticism from the general public in recent years over his perceived failure to bring the economy back to life in the face of US sanctions.
The decision by the Guardian Council to remove several sitting MPs is being called “the next crisis” for the Islamic Republic by some observers on social media channels. In recent months, the country has been rocked by a series of street protests over various issues that have stirred sentiment against the regime. The barred MPs will likely appeal, but if their appeals fail this could prompt further demonstrations.
According to the Guardian Council, many of the 14,000 who applied to run in the elections were “not qualified” to serve as a lawmaker. However, the excluded include several MPs such as right-wing stalwart Ali Motahari and “liberal” Mahmoud Sadeqi. Both members of parliament are regarded as vocal on several issues. Sadeqi in recent days criticised the Iranian military over the shooting down of Ukraine International Airline (UIA) flight PS752, which came down in a fireball in a Tehran suburb on January 8. The armed forces said it was a case of misidentification and a communications breakdown.
The ultimate political authority in Iran is the supreme leader, presently Ayatollah Ali Khameini. The 12-member Guardian Council is, according to the Constitution, composed of six Islamic faqihs (experts in Islamic Law), "conscious of the present needs and issues of the day" who are selected by the supreme leader, and six jurists, "specialising in different areas of law, to be elected by the Majlis (the parliament) from among Muslim jurists nominated by the head of the judiciary, who is also appointed by the supreme leader).
The Guardian Council is charged with interpreting the Constitution, supervising elections for the Assembly of Experts (the deliberative body empowered to designate and dismiss the supreme leader), the presidency and the Majlis, and "ensuring ... the compatibility of legislation passed by the Islamic Consultative Assembly [i.e. the Majlis] ... with the criteria of Islam and the Constitution".
The Majlis has represented a cross-section of the Islamic elite over the past 40 years, including a growing number of female representatives. It reserves five seats for ethnic minorities including Assyrians, Armenians, Jews and Zoroastrians as per the constitution written in 1980, the year after the Islamic Revolution of Iran.
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