Iran Elections Exclude Many Reform Candidates As Iran prepares to elect a new parliament on Friday, hundreds of reform candidates have been disqualified by a non-elected council. Iran's leaders say this is democracy. Critics in Iran say it's hardly democratic.

Iran Elections Exclude Many Reform Candidates

Iran Elections Exclude Many Reform Candidates

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Supporters of the Coalition of Reformists, the main reformist slate for Iran's parliament in Friday's election, attend a campaign rally at the Ali ibn Musa Reza Mosque in Islamshahr. Mike Shuster, NPR hide caption

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Mike Shuster, NPR

Supporters of the Coalition of Reformists, the main reformist slate for Iran's parliament in Friday's election, attend a campaign rally at the Ali ibn Musa Reza Mosque in Islamshahr.

Mike Shuster, NPR

A View into Iran's Dynamics

On the surface, Iran's elections would seem to have little relevance for anyone except the country's ruling clerics. But some observers say that even a flawed election can show the United States a lot about factions in the Iranian government.

Iranian parliament speaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel speaks during a major conservative rally in Tehran on Tuesday. Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images

Iranian parliament speaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel speaks during a major conservative rally in Tehran on Tuesday.

Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images

Iran elects a new parliament on Friday. In stark contrast to U.S. elections, Iran's campaign began last weekend and ends Thursday night, lasting all of five days.

There are about 7,000 candidates running for 290 seats in the parliament. A non-elected council has disqualified nearly 2,000 would-be candidates, most of them reformers.

Iran's leaders say this is democracy. Critics in Iran say it's hardly democratic.

Iran doesn't look like a country about to hold a national election. There are some political banners and posters in Tehran; in other cities there are none. There are no debates — they are prohibited by election law. There are no political ads on television and almost no political rallies.

In downtown Tehran, the United Front of Fundamentalists held a meeting Tuesday to introduce some of its candidates. It began with a recitation of a passage from the Koran.

Hardly more than a few dozen people showed up.

Council Decides Who Runs

The Guardian Council holds the power to qualify or disqualify candidates. The council consists of six high-ranking clerics, and six jurists, appointed by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Conservative candidates, such as Ali Abbaspour, defend this system.

"Always the parliament has a very important place in the Iranian political system," he says. "For this reason, all the time the representatives should be among the highest, the most qualified persons in Iranian society."

Reformers dominated Iran's parliament from the late 1990s until 2004. Since then the Guardian Council has moved aggressively to limit their chances. Still, disqualifying candidates is controversial here, and political pressure forced the council to reinstate nearly 1,000 it had initially barred from running.

Khomeini's Granddaughter Opposes System

Ayatollah Khomeini, who led the movement to overthrow the Shah of Iran 30 years ago, fashioned the key mechanisms of Islamic government here — a system his granddaughter is now campaigning against.

"It's illegal, it's not fair, and it's not competitive — the whole ... governing system of the country," Zahra Eshraghi says. "We can see in even small towns that there was a possibility that one candidate could be supported by the reformists or get the peoples' vote. Immediately that candidate was disqualified."

In Tehran this week, the reformists have been more active than their conservative opponents, holding more political meetings, which always come with popular or traditional Persian music.

Reformers Increasingly Unified

The reformists see an opportunity because there are five competing slates of conservative candidates — some of whom refer to themselves as principalists — and only two slates of reformers. Behzad Gareyazi, a candidate from the Coalition of Reformists, says they are more unified than in recent years.

"There is much more competition among principalists than what you can see among the reformists," Gareyazi says.

Heydar Pourian, the editor of Iran Economics Monthly, senses a lack of enthusiasm among Iran's voters because, he says, neither the government nor parliament is addressing the real economic troubles facing Iran, especially growing inflation, now at 20 percent.

"There's a large public apathy toward elections we feel this year, especially because of the economic problems, as well as the disappointment in the evolving democracy that we have," Pourian says.

Late Wednesday, the Supreme Leader urged Iranians to vote against those who are supported by Iran's enemies, by which he is widely understood to mean the United States.