The Spokesman for President Hassan Rouhani administration has urged Iranians to go to the polls in the upcoming parliamentary elections to prevent the collapse of the Islamic Republic.
Addressing reporters at a news conference in Tehran on Monday February 3, Ali Rabiei said "The upcoming election is the most important election in the history of the Islamic Republic. The only way to resist the collapse of Iran is going to the polls."
This is by far the most radical comment ever made by an Iranian official about the state of affairs in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Rabiei, promised that the government will do its best to ensure a healthy election. This comes while only two weeks ago, President Hassan Rouhani said all the candidates who have been allowed to run belong to the conservative faction.
The Guardian Council has disqualified nearly one third of the current members of the parliament on charges of "financial and ethical corruption" and reform-minded figures have complained that there are very few reformist candidates allowed to run for the Majles in the February 21 elections.
This has reduced the choice for voters mainly to the hardliner candidates, with the consequent lack of incentive for people hoping for change to go to the polls. Many voters are already disillusioned with the country's economic conditions and harsh repression of recent protests.
Regardless of criticisms, the spokesman for the Guardian Council, Abbas Ali Kadhodai said on Saturday that some 7,000 candidates have been qualified to run. He said 24 candidates will compete for every parliament seat.
He added, "More than 50 percent of those who registered as candidates have been qualified to run for the Majles."
But according to Kayhan newspaper, during the news conference on Saturday, a reporter from the reformist daily Etemad questioned the Guardian Council's impartiality and said that all those qualified come from the same faction. Kadkhodai said: "This is your opinion and we do not accept that."
Following Kadkhodai's defense of the Guardian Council's performance in the vetting, some of the disqualified candidates, mainly current MPs have spoken to the press, questioning the Guardian Council's argument.
Ali Motahari, the outspoken MP for Tehran, told reporters that he was invited to talk with Guardian Council members on Friday about his disqualification.
Motahari said the reason for his disqualification was his critical comments about political matters. He said Guardian Council members told him: "You should say whatever we say."
Motahari says that he could not believe what he heard. "It was like a nightmare," adding that he will no longer protest against his disqualification. "I did protest, but I am not going to beg," he said.
Another Prominent MP, Gholamreza Heidari, told ISNA that "the electoral system in Iran is badly ill." He said: "I was called in to speak to Mr. Kadkhodai. While at the Guardian Council, I was told that the reason for my disqualification was what I had said at the Majles. They said I should have not said the reason Iraq started a war against Iran in the 1980s was that we had occupied the U.S. embassy in Tehran."
They asked: "Why did you say we should have not continued the war after we liberated Khorramshahr?" The comment was taken as criticism of Ayatollah Khomeini's decision to continue the war for eight years.
"Another reason was that I had said at the Majles that those who have political power in Iran are not accountable for their decisions ," Heidari said, adding that "They also did not like my comment about why we should spend a lot of money in Yemen and Syria."
Heidari explained: What I have said, I have said at the Majles and as part of my responsibility as a member of parliament."
He noted he would not follow up the case because if he wants to complain against the Guardian Council, he should send his complaint to the same Guardian Council! There is no other authority Heidari could appeal to.
In past elections, a measure of competitiveness and a visible presence of "reformist" candidates encouraged more voters to go to the polls. This time it might be different if people expect hardliners to win.
Others such as former Vice-president Shahindokht Mollaverdi and Fatemeh Saeedi simply tweeted a line or two about their disqualification. The two women did not say whether they are planning to take their complaints any further.
Last week, pro-Larijani Khabar Online website wrote that both reformists and conservatives found themselves in trouble after the result of the vetting by Guardian Council was announced. Reformists, because they have very few people to run for the 290 seats, and conservatives because they have too many candidates qualified, and it is not easy to narrow down their list.
In the meantime, there is a fierce competition among various hardliner groups. The ultraconservative Paydari (Steadfastness) has already made its list public. Other groups such as former Teheran Mayor Qalibaf's neo-conservatives either have to accept Paydari's list or come up with their own separate list of candidates. The second choice is more likely to happen, but it will sow further discord among the conservative camp which has never managed to unite during the past decade.