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Hardliner Watchdog In Iran Opposes Electoral Reform To Boost Competitiveness

Ahmad Jannati, 92, walking with a stick among his peers. FILE PHOTO

Iran’s hardliner election watchdog has opposed a last-ditch effort by the outgoing parliament to boost political competitiveness in the country’s closed electoral system.

The 92-year old chairman of the Guardian Council, Ahmad Jannati has said that a draft bill in parliament is aimed at watering down his council’s authority in approving candidates for elections.

The Guardian Council vets all parliamentary and presidential candidates and as a norm rejects most aspirants. In last February’s parliamentary elections not only thousands of would-be candidates were disqualified but even 100 serving lawmakers were barred from running again.

This is one of the many mechanisms in the Islamic Republic to control the political establishment in the country and not allow any dissenting voice to gain political office.

The parliament’s draft bill is aimed at eliminating the role of prosecutors in the vetting of candidates and keep the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps, the country’s main military force, from playing any role in the process. Usually, the Guardian Council asks the opinion of the Guards about candidates. This could be a violation of the Constitution, which says the military should stay out of politics.

The Guardian Council consists of six religious “scholars” appointed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and six legal experts approved by parliament. It is also tasked with approving all legislation by parliament.

The Council’s unprecedented large-scale disqualifications of candidates this year led to widespread criticism and many political groupings boycotted the February vote, which had a low turnout.

During the parliamentary debate over the draft bill, many lawmakers harshly criticized the Council and one member called its interference “engineering elections”.

In his remarks, Jannati called for an “experts” approach to reforming electoral law “without emotions” and expressed hope that the new parliament to be sworn in at the end of May to take up the issue of enacting a new legal framework. However, because of the Council’s widespread rejection of candidates, the new parliament is packed with hardliner lawmakers who share Jannati’s worldview.