Election campaign starts ahead of Iranian elections

Some would-be candidates have dropped out on their own, whether for personal reasons or out of anger at the disqualifications.

jp.services2 (photo credit:)
jp.services2
(photo credit: )
Campaigning kicked off Thursday for this month's Iranian parliament elections, a vote that could see gains for supporters of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after widespread disqualifications of reformist candidates. Reformists have been hoping that widespread discontent over Ahmadinejad's failure to improve the flagging economy and reduce unemployment and inflation could boost their showing. But many of their candidates were among some 1,700 hopefuls that were barred from running by the country's constitutional watchdog, dominated by hardline clerics. Other would-be candidates have dropped out on their own, whether for personal reasons or out of anger at the disqualifications. Among them is Ali Eshraghi, a grandson Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of Iran's Islamic republic - Eshraghi was initially among those excluded, allegedly for not being loyal enough to the principles of the 1979 Islamic revolution and hard-line interpretations of Islamic rule, and he was later reinstated, but then he announced his withdrawal, without giving a reason. The wide disqualification has been reminiscent of 2004 elections, when the Guardian Council barred thousands of reformists from running, allowing hard-liners to regain control of the 290-seat legislature. The Web site of Iran's Interior Ministry said that about 4,500 candidates are now in the running in the March 14 vote. Despite the official start Thursday, the campaign has not heated up yet, likely due to a two-day religious mourning holiday ahead. In central Teheran, streets were hung Thursday with billboards for the largest coalition of candidates - the United Front of "Principlists", a grouping of hard-liners, many of them close to Ahmadinejad, headed by parliament speaker Golam Ali Haddad Adel. The name "Principlists" refers to its supporters' platform promising to implement the principles of Islam - but the faction has also emphasized slogans promising to reduce poverty and fight inflation, a nod to the widespread concerns over Ahmadinejad's performance on the economy. According to official statistics, inflation stands at 17 percent. But hardliners have split, with a second list calling itself the Inclusive Coalition of "Principlists", which has sought to distance itself from Ahmadinejad, calling for parliament to be more independent of his administration. The list says it has close ties with Teheran's popular mayor Mohmmad Baqer Qalibaf, former chief of the elite Revolutionary Guards Mohsen Rezai and former top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani. Larijani, who left his post last year after reported differences with Ahmadinejad, is running for a parliament seat from the holy city of Qom, 130 kilometers south of Teheran, but has not yet announced whether he will officially join the Inclusive Coalition list. The group has said that Larijani would be their choice for parliament speaker. The lists have not fully been completed across the country, and some candidates run independently without joining a coalition, making it difficult to assess the strengths of each faction. But the reformist factions appear to be far smaller. Reformists say they have about 200 candidates running across the country, including supporters of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a powerful cleric seen as a top rival of Ahmadinejad. The reformists have also seen divisions, with three lists. The main faction is the Coalition of Reformists, including former members of the reformist parliament swept into power in 1999 but then removed in 2004 and former Cabinet members from the government of Ahmadinejad's predecessor, Mohammad Khatami. The National Trust Party, another reformist group, is running a separate list, headed by former parliament speaker Mahdi Karrubi. A group of supporters of Rafsanjamni formed a new list, called the Coalition of Moderates. Some have said the separate lists could hurt the movement - though independent political analyst Saeed Laylaz calls it a tactic to draw in different social groups. "Rafsanjani group has focused on technocrats, Khatami group on middle class and finally Karrubi group in a populist approach has focused on ordinary Iranian," he said. On Wednesday, reformist spokesman Mostafa Tajzadeh said that despite obstacles in the way of their activities, the reformists still plan to run in the polling. we have a quote for this? Lobbying by ex-Presidents Rafsanjani and Khatami has not appeared very successful in the past weeks. Khatami warned there would be no serious competition in the elections unless the Guardian Council reversed its ban on moderates. Key members of the Guardian Council are hand-picked by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters. He generally backs the council's decisions.