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New Conditions For Presidential Hopefuls, Makes 2021 Race Harder For Moderates

Guardian Council members; Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi (R), and Ahmad Jannati (C), attending a session of Assembly of Experts, undated.

Iran’s Guardian Council, a watchdog that vets election candidates and ensures new laws comply with constitutional law, has set 11 new conditions on March 17 for those wishing to run for president in 2021.

One of the new conditions requires a “security clearance” that ensures potential candidates are not “seditionists,” a label regime insiders use to describe those who played an active role in the protests that followed the disputed presidential election in 2009, which brought ultraconservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power for a second term.

Another condition calls on candidates to name their advisers while registering with the council as candidate. This condition is an apparent move to make sure that not only the candidate, but also his aides are vetted.

The new conditions are likely to make candidacy harder for independent hopefuls, and to ensure that everyone registering their candidacy meets the requirements set by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the non-elected body, the Guardian Council.

Although the Guardian Council has disqualified all female candidates for presidency so far, the council’s spokesman Abbasali Kadkhodai reiterated once again that the council is still silent about whether women can or cannot run for president.

Kadkhodai said that the new conditions are based on a mandate Khamenei gave the council on January 10 further to the “general policies” he had determined in 2015.

In both of those documents Khamenei had ordered the Guardian Council to offer their interpretation of article 115 of the Iranian Constitutional Law that requires candidates to be “religious political men of Iranian nationality with a background in good management. Men who are honest, pious and believe in the principles of the Islamic Republic and the country’s official religion,” that is 12-Imamite Shi’ism.

In its interpretation of the law, which is now embodied in the new conditions, Guardian Council requires presidential candidates to be “disposed with natural and learned merits and capable of foreseeing affairs of the state based on rationality and true knowledge of how to run the country.”

Almost every word in the new conditions is prone to individual interpretation. As a result, any candidate may be barred if the 12 Guardian Council members decide so.

Other conditions include “Introducing advisers who can push forward and manage their plans, being experienced in political and religious domains, and capable of correspondence and public speaking.”

Kadkhodai said, “There are still other conditions, such as proper age for candidacy, that have to be determined by the Majles.”

In 2013, Guardian Council disqualified former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani for being “too old,” while he was nearly a decade younger than the council’s Chairman Ali Jannati.

Ahmadinejad was also disqualified in 2017, but the reason for his disqualification was never made public.

In every presidential election in Iran so far, Guardian Council disqualified hundreds of independent candidates, leaving a handful of mainly hardliners and one or two reform-minded politicians.

The conservative-controlled Guardian Council is one of the most powerful and influential bodies of the Islamic Republic. It consists of six clerics appointed by the Supreme Leader and six lawyers nominated by the judiciary and approved by the Majles. Its members are elected for six years on a phased basis, so that half the membership changes every three years.