Questions Loom In Iran As Reformist Factions Lose Hope In Elections

The head of Iran's reformist coalition in parliamentary elections Mohammad Reza Aref (c) shows his inked finger after casting his ballot at a polling station in Tehran, February 26, 2016. FILE PHOTO

Leaders of Iran's reformist parties say the results of the upcoming parliamentary elections will come as no surprise as nearly all of the well-known reformist candidates have been disqualified by the hardliner-dominated Guardian Council.

They said at the end of a meeting on Wednesday January 22 that unless there is a meaningful revision in the results of the vetting, reformists have no one to represent them in many constituencies, semi-official news agency ISNA reported on Thursday.

From among around 15,000 candidates only 60 low-key reformist figures have been qualified to run for the February 21 election.

This is a dramatic change compared with the previous round of parliamentary election in 2016 when all of the 30 MPs from Tehran were on the reformists’ lists and reform minded candidates also won the in other major cities such as Mashad and Isfahan.

This will be a major change in the configuration of political forces in and out of the Iranian parliament which will not only affect political developments in the short-run but can also shape the dynamics surrounding Khamenei's succession particularly if hardliners also win the presidential election in 2021.

SEE ALSO: Rouhani And Hardliner Watchdog Spar Over Mass Disqualification Of Candidates

The Guardian Council has rejected appeals by President Hassan Rouhani and Majles Speaker Ali Larijani to reconsider the vetting. The Guardian Council has accused both leaders of "not being well-informed" about the affairs of the state.

Last week, Rouhani criticized the Guardian Council for disqualifying reformist and moderate candidates saying that "All of those whose qualifications are endorsed by the Guardian Council come from the same faction: the hardliners."

Likewise, at the open session of the Majles on January 20 Larijani questioned the validity of vetting by the Guardian Council saying that he was surprised to see current and former MPs being disqualified by the Guardian Council on charges of financial and ethical corruption.

Reformist party leaders charged in their meeting on Wednesday that the Guardian Council's discrimination against reformist candidates violates its impartiality and will lead to a lacklustre election in February.

Guardian Council Spokesperson Abbas Ali Kadkhodai, however, insists that some 90 out of the 290 current MPs cannot run for the Majles as they are implicated in financial corruption cases.

In the meantime, Alireza Rahimi, a member of the Majles Presidium wrote in a tweet that the Guardian Council has asked some candidates to present proof of paying one fifth of their income to clerics as the Islamic tax "Khoms". Few people pay this tax and if they do, they are not likely to get a receipt as proof of payment.

However, Rahimi wrote in a later tweet that the Guardian Council has rejected his accusation.

Other candidates said that the Guardian Council has disqualified all the MPs that had supported the nuclear deal with the West; the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). According to ISNA, Guardian Council Spokesperson Kadkhodai said on Thursday that "This is not true. If we wanted to disqualify people for supporting the JCPOA or the administration, we would have done this in the previous round of the Majles elections in 2016.

SEE ALSO: The End Of The Larijani Era In Iran?

The claim about supporting the Rouhani administration or the JCPOA leading to candidates' disqualifications was made by President Rouhani's Chief of Staff Mahmoud Vaezi on the side-line of a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, social media reports on Wednesday said that President Rouhani was going to have a meeting at his office in Sadabad palace Thursday morning with former reformist President Mohammad Khatami, Ayatollah Khomeini's grandson Hassan, and several other figures close to Iran's reform camp to discuss the widespread disqualification of reform-minded candidates.

Thursday Morning, Alireza Moezzi, an official in charge of news dissemination at Rouhani's office refuted the reports characterizing them as fake news, ISNA reported. However, he insisted that Rouhani will do everything to ensure there will be rigorous participation in the elections.

So far, the 2020 parliamentary vote has been overshadowed by several major events in recent weeks including the protests in November during which around 1,500 protesters are said to have been killed by security forces. Other major events were the killing of Qods Force Commander General Qasem Soleimani in a U.S. drone attack in Baghdad, Iran's missile attack on a coalition base in Iraq and the Iranian missile attack on a civilian airliner that left 176 dead.