Iran Election Watch 2016: High numbers register to run in parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections

With the end of registration for aspiring candidates who want to participate in Iran’s upcoming 2016 parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections, Minister of Interior Abdol-Reza Rahmani-Fazli announced a high turnout. According to government figures 12123 people registered for parliamentary elections, over 100 percent more than in the previous 2012 election, while 801 individuals registered for Assembly of Experts elections, an increase of over 62 percent since the last election in 2008.

Iran’s parliament, the Islamic Consultative Assembly or “Majlis”, is responsible for legislation. The Assembly of Experts, an 88-person body made up of Islamic jurists, is responsible for selecting the supreme leader, the most powerful position in Iran’s political system.

Registering for elections in Iran does not automatically ensure having the opportunity to participate. Aspiring candidates must first pass through vetting by the powerful quasi-legislative, quasi-judicial, Council of Guardians, not an easy feat for those like the reformists who are seen as being outside of Islamic Republic’s political establishment. The high registration rate this time around may thus be part of a reformist strategy of mass-registering fresh faces in the election in the hopes that some, by virtue of being relatively unknown, will evade disqualification by the Guardian Council.

Perhaps for precisely these reasons Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the head of the Guardian Council, expressed his displeasure at the high turnout, declaring: “Unfortunately the number of registrants, either in the Assembly of Experts or parliament, has increased very much. Our question is whether all of those who have registered for the Assembly elections know themselves as an [Islamic] jurist? Or with what motivation have those who cannot even read a single page in Arabic registered? Why have such people created so much work?” Jannati’s comments raise questions about the extent to which the Guardian Council will engage in the mass-disqualification of aspiring candidates seen as being outside of the Islamic Republic’s establishment in this election.

Finally, it appears that Iranian Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, who leads an important traditional principalist parliamentary faction, has indeed decided to run independent of the broader principalist parliamentary factions as we speculated last week. Larijani, who has found common ground with the moderate Hassan Rouhani administration on issues such as the nuclear deal, may hope to benefit from a pro-Rouhani wave in the election. But his actions may have consequences for the broader principalist current in Iran, engendering further divisions