Iran's upcoming local elections seen as test for Ahmadinejad

The polls on Dec. 15 are expected to gauge support for Ahmadinejad within the hardline camp in Iran.

ahmadinejad oy 88 (photo credit: )
ahmadinejad oy 88
(photo credit: )
Candidates began registering Monday for Iran's local council elections, seen as a limited test of public approval for hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.The polls on Dec. 15 are expected to gauge support for Ahmadinejad within the hardline camp in Iran, where some conservatives criticize the president as being strong on populist slogans but weak on achievement.The elections are also expected to revive the debate on the way Iran is run. All candidates for village and town councils will be vetted by the Guardian Council, a body of conservative clerics that disqualified numerous reformist candidates from the 2004 legislative elections, enabling hard-liners to win control of the parliament.The Guardian Council's role in elections provoked strong vocal protests in 2004, including from then President Mohammad Khatami. But the council is backed by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and shows no sign of allowing a more open field.However, the council may well approve a substantial number of reformists for the local elections simply because it will not know the political color of many of the hundreds of thousands of candidates, who will be standing for the first time.The Guardian Council is not expected to disqualify candidates who belong to hardline groups opposed to Ahmadinejad. Such groups have accused the president of preferring to make fiery, anti-Western speeches than to implement the poverty-alleviation policies he championed at his election in June 2005.On Dec. 15, voters will also cast ballots for the Assembly of Experts, a body of 86 senior clerics that is charged with monitoring the supreme leader and choosing his successor.However, a low turnout is expected in the Assembly poll as voters traditionally decline to take part because there is very little difference among the carefully selected candidates.The elections will be only the third time that Iranians have elected local councils, a reform introduced by Khatami in 1999. The councils have four-year terms and the new ones will take office in early 2007.In the local polls of 2003, a total of 225,000 candidates, including 6,000 women, ran for 185,000 seats on village and town councils.