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Interference in Local Elections: Approved Candidates Now Disqualified

Registration for Iranian local elections.
Registration for Iranian local elections.

Local council elections are set to take place in Iran on May 19, the same day as the presidential vote. Out of the nearly 290,000 candidates who had applied to run, those with a record of arrest for protests are facing disqualification, even though they had received the go-ahead from the legal body tasked with approving candidates.

Others with no arrest records have also met the same fate. Moreover, hundreds of candidates were disqualified because they were deemed to hold political views incompatible with the ruling elite.

On May 11, reports emerged of 30 more individuals having been axed from the list of qualified candidates for membership in City and Village Councils in Iran.

“The axing took place after Iran’s attorney general’s office presented a list of candidates who should have been disqualified,” Farhad Tajjari, spokesman for the Central Election Supervisory Board, told reporters. “In a special session with the attorney general’s representatives, a list of 70 people convicted in the Revolutionary Courts was presented to the board. Thirty people on the list were those who were nominated for a seat in City and Village Councils. The names were reported to the Interior Ministry, and they were declared disqualified.”

According to some reports, a number of organs, such as IRGC’s intelligence units and local judiciaries have recently stepped in to force the Central Election Supervisory Board into submission for taking back their seal of qualifications.

The shakeup over the past two days has taken place regardless of the fact that the Central Election Supervisory Board has no power to overrule the decision of the City and Provincial Supervisory Boards on qualifying candidates.

However, the central board does have the power and authority to review cases of already disqualified nominees and even reinstate them in cases of injustice. However, in this case, the law worked in reverse. Instead of giving a hearing to those who complain of being rejected, the board is disqualifying approved candidates.

The City and Village Councils are local councils in charge of electing mayors, supervising the activities of municipalities and the study of social, cultural, educational, health, economic, and welfare requirements of their constituencies. Council members are elected by direct public ballot for four-year terms.

Qualified candidates now have less than a week to present themselves and their manifestos to the public.

Disqualifying hundreds of former political and human rights activists will have a negative impact on the incumbent president’s votes, according to supporters of President Hassan Rouhani. Disappointed by the disqualifications, people might opt to avoid the ballot box. The more people who stay away from voting, the better it would be for the challengers of the incumbent.

The disqualified candidates reportedly include Ali Tajernia, a reformist and former MP; Emad Behavar, the leader of the Iran Freedom Movement, Youth Branch; and Abdullah Mo’meni, a students’ rights activist.

Mo’meni was a member of Mehdi Karroubi’s presidential campaign headquarters in the controversial 2009 presidential election. He was recently released after five years behind bars. Prior to that, he was spokesman of the Alumni Association of Iran, which defends human rights and democracy in Iran.

Karroubi, who lost in both the 2005 and 2009 presidential elections against Mahmud Ahmadinejad, considers himself a pragmatist and is described as one of the prominent figures of Iran’s opposition Green Movement. He has been under house arrest, alongside former Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, since 2011.

Behavar was arrested after protests against Ahmadinejad’s re-election in 2009. He was released after five years of imprisonment.

Tajernia, a reformist former MP for the city of Mashhad and a member of the Mosharekat Front Central Committee, was also detained after the widespread and bloody protests in 2009. He was released after spending a year in prison.

The three were reportedly disqualified after being officially approved to run for a seat on Tehran City Council.

Deputy speaker of the parliament, Ali Motahari, an outspoken critic of heavy-handed policies, has weighed in: “To disqualify an already declared qualified candidate is against the law. I’ve asked them [the members of the Elections Supervisory Boards] to resist and stand firm. Yet, I do not know the outcome.”

“Concerning Abdullah Mo’meni, in particular, I recommended a firm resistance against his disqualification. The poor guy has spent so many years behind bars, they have persecuted him a lot, and he has suffered for a very long time,” he said.

Motahari’s protests appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

According to the Iran Elections Headquarters, 10,000 -- or nearly 3 percent of those who applied to run for office -- have been disqualified by the Executive Boards. Meanwhile, almost 4,500 candidates have also been declared disqualified by the Supervisory Boards.