Iran bans record number of legislative candidates

Guardian Council disqualifies 9,000 contenders from February 21 vote

FILE PHOTO: Iranian lawmakers attend a session of parliament in Tehran, Iran July 16, 2019 (photo credit: NAZANIN TABATABAEE/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY) VIA REUTERS)
FILE PHOTO: Iranian lawmakers attend a session of parliament in Tehran, Iran July 16, 2019
According to figures from the Iranian government, roughly 9,000 candidates have been barred from participating in the February 21 legislative elections.
All candidates for the 290-member legislature must be approved by the Guardian Council, which is controlled by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
While banning candidates from running is nothing new, the sheer number of those found unacceptable is. 
Writer and Iran analyst Tony Duheaume argues that this is reflective of the instability that the government is currently facing. 
“The regime often resorts to such measures when their backs are to the wall, out of sheer fear of being overthrown,” he told The Media Line
Beginning on November 15, Iran was rocked by countrywide protests triggered by a major increase in the cost of fuel that resulted in more than 1,500 deaths, Reuters reported on December 23.
With the Iranian population suffering from the country’s dire economic situation, there is an ever-present threat that demonstrations will break out again.
“With [a terrible] economy and tough sanctions, Iran [is] continuing to spend massive amounts on weaponry, its military, and groups like Hizbullah,” Duheaume said. “With foreign military ventures also draining its resources, the people will face even more cutbacks, making future protests a certainty.”
However, the leadership will most likely dismiss the boycott as the product of outside forces.
Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, founder and spokesperson for the NGO Iran Human Rights and a professor at the University of Oslo, argues that elections serve multiple objectives for Iranian officials, including bolstering the authority of the regime.
“Elections in Iran have several purposes: They are used by the authorities to show that the system has legitimacy among the people,” he told The Media Line. “On the other hand, they want the people to keep some hope for small changes within the system.
“What is sure,” he added, “is that neither the parliament nor the president [Hassan Rouhani] has any actual power since power lies in the hands of the supreme leader.”
As there are no candidates who could implement major changes, many Iranians are calling on their fellow citizens to stay home on Election Day. Some polls indicate that as many as 70 to 80% of Iranians plan to skip the vote, Amiry-Moghaddam said.
“I think the most important aspect of these elections is how a large part of society will boycott the [vote],” he said. “For the first time, the campaign to boycott the elections has nationwide support and not only limited to those who have traditionally called for a regime change.” 
Amiry-Moghaddam said that the large protests in November and December were an expression of the populace’s loss of faith in the public officials who ran for office on a platform of change.
“I think the latest demonstrations were a good indicator that the Iranian people don’t see a difference anymore between the so-called reformist faction and the hard-liner faction of the regime,” he said.
Dr. Borna Khiabani, an Iranian activist based in Paris, echoes this sentiment. 
“[Changes] under so-called reformists or a conservative president have never and can never fulfill the desires of the people who strive for democracy,” he told The Media Line.
“The elections do not matter since the candidates, handpicked by Khamenei himself, have sworn allegiance and loyalty to him; that is why the elections do not matter and we see how more and more Iranians are boycotting it,” Khiabani said.
A European source who asked not to be identified said the people he is close to in Tehran are boycotting the vote.
“My friends … say they will not participate. The reasons are known: economic crisis, sanctions, lack of freedom, disillusionment,” the source said. 
He said the planned boycott would result in Iran’s next legislative body being even more loyal to the regime and the supreme leader. Consequently, he thinks that the election winners will try to replace President Rouhani, whom they perceive as too timid.
“[I believe] … those forces will push for Rouhani’s removal. And what is interesting, I think, is that this will get the green light from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself,” the source said. “Rouhani was too much linked to the [2015 nuclear deal] and now they feel that with the current tension with the US, it is time for a more confrontational president.”
Still, Khiabani is optimistic that Iranians will someday control their own destiny.
“I am hopeful that democracy will come to Iran because the people know that their enemy is neither from the East nor the West but from within,” he said. “Once the regime is toppled by the people, we will see free elections where the people themselves can vote for their constitution, [which will finally reflect] their values, unlike the current one.”

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