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Election Watchdog In Iran Warns About 'Dirty Money' In Next Vote

FILE - Guardians Council spokesman Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei.

Iran’s all-powerful election watchdog has again warned on Saturday it would step in if candidates for upcoming parliamentary elections use “dirty money”.

The eleventh Islamic Parliament elections in Iran will be on February 21, 2020, across the country.

After holding different elections in the past four decades, the Guardian Council (GC), spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei admitted that "dirty money" has played a crucial role in many constituencies.

"To address the problem of dirty money in deciding elections better laws are required," Kadkhodaei insisted. Iran does not any laws regulating election campaign spending.

However, the GC, responsible for vetting candidates and supervising presidential and parliamentary elections, already enjoys enough authority to combat use of so-called dirty money in campaigns; Kadkhodaei asserted.

Wherever dirty money has a deciding impact on the outcome of an election, the GC will step in an indiscriminately punish the suspects, Kadkhodaei reiterated.

The 12-member GC, which is empowered to vet legislation and oversee elections, is made up of religious jurists and lawyers and in many ways acts as an upper legislative body in the Iranian establishment.

Half of its members are clerical specialists in Islamic canon law who are directly appointed by the country's Supreme Leader. The other half are civil legal experts nominated by the Supreme Judicial Council and endorsed by the parliament. The GC is also responsible for reviewing all legislation passed by the parliament to determine their constitutionality.

Earlier on September 20, Kadkhodaei had also admitted the dominant role of money in Iranian elections. He had lamented that there were no laws to curb the effect of money on the outcome of some elections.

Three days later, the 91-year-old chairman of the GC, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, also affirmed, "Several people are seeking parliamentary seats through spending dirty money, while such crime is the GC's red line."

Nonetheless, neither Jannati, nor Kadkhodaei defined what is dirty money or disclosed the details of the GC's plan to eliminate its role in elections, and why the problem had been ignored for the past forty years.

But there might be a political angle to all this. The GC is a hardliner body in Iran, enforcing the preferences of the conservative clergy led by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. In the past it has used its powers extensively to disqualify those who do not wholeheartedly support the hardliner’s agenda. So, when the GC rings the alarm bells about dirty money, some might see it as another trick to block the candidacy of unwanted politicians.

But other politicians have also warned about dirty money in a specific context. The issue was initially raised five years ago by the Minister of Interior, Abdol-Reza Rahmani Fazli.

"A part of the dirty money collected in the narcotics market and drug smuggling resurfaces on the political stage, through the financial support to candidates, and for urging members of parliament to endorse some particular bills and motions," Rahmani Fazli had divulged.

However, under a barrage of criticism from lawmakers, Rahmani Fazli was forced to take back his comments.

Parliamentary candidates in the Islamic Republic are required to declare the sources of their financial support, immediately after registering with the Ministry of Interior.

The Islamic Republic has not joined the international conventions to combat money laundering, while a local bill on financial transparency has also been shelved.