Iranian President Hassan Rouhani leaves after delivering a speech at plenary session during the Asian African Conference in Jakarta April 22, 2015. The 60th Asian-African Conference is held in Jakarta and Bandung from April 19 to 24, 2015. REUTERS/Beawiharta - RTX19RI1

Rouhani disheartened by mass disqualification of aspiring 2016 Iran election candidates

Mass disqualification

Preliminary reports appear to indicate the there has been mass disqualification of aspiring candidates by the Council of Guardians ahead of the 2016 Iranian Islamic Consultative Assembly (parliamentary) and Assembly of Experts elections. According to Tasnim News Agency, only 4,720 out of a total of 12,123 aspiring candidates have been qualified to participate as candidates in these elections, a 38.9 percent qualification rate. That’s an average of 16 candidates competing for each seat in parliament. While an unprecedented number of aspirants registered to run in the elections, this would also be the lowest qualification rate of any election.

Seyed Hossein Marashi, a member of the Reformist Policy-Making Council, stated that: “Collectively in the country 3,000 reformists registered of which only 30 were qualified. On this basis only 1 percent of reformists were approved.” In the city of Tehran, Marashi said only the following reformists were qualified to participate: Mohammad-Reza Aref; Ali-Reza Mahjoub; Soheil Jelodarzadeh; Mostafa Kavakebian; and Hashemi Zehi. Marashi is thought to be close to Iranian political heavyweight Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. He remarked that this meant that “all the forces close to the government”, most having been disqualified according to Article 28 of the parliamentary election law.

Analysing the implications of the elections, Marashi argued that “These elections shall be a test for the Rouhani administration and there has been no government since the revolution where the forces close to it have been disqualified to this extent for parliamentary elections.”

Preliminary reports appear to show that those disqualified are not merely the thousands of relative political unknowns who registered as aspiring candidates, but political heavyweights from across Iran’s political spectrum, even sitting parliamentarians. Those named in one report include:

  • Mohsen and Fatemeh Hashemi, the son and daughter of Hashemi-Rafsanjani respectively, a key ally of President Hassan Rouhani;
  • Ebrahim Jahangiri, brother of Rouhani vice president Eshagh Jahangiri
  • Mohsen Mehralizadeh, a former head of the National Sports Organisation under the Mohammad Khatami administration and 2005 reformist presidential candidate
  • Hojatoleslam Rasoul Montajabnia, deputy leader of the reformist National Confidence Party (Hezb-e Etemad-e Melli);
  • Ali Motahari, a prominent traditional principalist parliamentarian who has supported some of the Rouhani administration’s initiatives  
  • Ahmad Pournejati, a reformist representative in Iran’s Sixth parliament (2000)
  • Ebrahim Asgharzadeh, a member of the Line of the Imam student group that seized the American embassy in Tehran and a representative in Iran’s Third parliament (1988); and
  • Hamid Rasaei, a hardline principalist parliamentarian belonging to the Persevering Front of the Islamic Revolution faction who opposed the nuclear agreement and many of the Rouhani administration’s efforts

Rouhani versus the Guardian Council

During his press conference on the beginning of the nuclear agreement’s Implementation Day, Rouhani expressed disappointment about the  outcome of the Guardian Council results, saying in part: “The preliminary information that they gave me was not very heartening. In the first two stages of the election there was a good and promising situation, widespread acclaim of registration and review of qualifications in implementations councils. However in the supervision phase, according to them [Guardian Council], some individuals were not qualified.”

The Iranian president expressed hope that the Guardian Council would resolve this issue, emphasising: “I as president shall use all of my power in this field.” According to him this would also be in line with what Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei emphasised regarding having an exciting election in which even those who are not partial to the regime come to the voting box, because this voting box is for their country.

Guardian Council Spokesman Nejatollah Ebrahmian on Monday 18 January appeared to question Rouhani’s use of the supreme leader’s words, retorting: “There must not be sophistry about the words of the supreme leader. The leadership said that even those who do not accept the regime should come and participate in the elections. He did not say that Article 28 should be ignored. Those who do not accept the regime can participate in the elections as voters…However as volunteers for candidacy they must meet legal criteria. How can we let those who do not accept the regime come and be present in the parliament. This is not logical.”

If the results turn out to be accurate, they could potentially have serious implications for the Rouhani administration’s ability to fulfil its election promises. The qualification results for the Assembly of Experts elections have yet to be declared. However, it appears that Hassan Khomeini, grandson of the founder of the Islamic Republic and considered a leading reformist figure, may not have been qualified. The assembly, elected every eight years, is entrusted with selecting and supervising the supreme leader. The assembly elected in the upcoming 2016 vote may very well end up choosing the next supreme leader given Ayatollah Khamenei’s advanced age and recent illness. These results should not be considered final, and Rouhani may be able to do some damage control and restore some of his allies to the election.