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

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

American elections have Super Tuesday to distinguish it from all the other voting Tuesdays. Iran's parliamentary election needed no such distinction because there was only one Tuesday.

INSKEEP: The country elects a new parliament tomorrow after an official campaign that lasted only five days. And you get a sense of the breadth and the limits of Iranian democracy by what was allowed and what wasn't.

Thousands of candidates did get to run during that short season of hunting for votes. Thousands more candidates were disqualified from running at all, and it was mostly reformers who were pushed off the ballot.

NPR's Mike Shuster is covering the elections from Tehran.

MIKE SHUSTER: This certainly 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.

(Soundbite of chanting)

SHUSTER: In downtown Tehran, the United Front of Fundamentalists held a meeting on 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.

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

Naturally, conservative candidates, such as Ali Abbaspour, defend this system.

Mr. ALI ABBASPOUR (Conservative Candidate): Always the parliament has a very important place in Iranian political system. For this reason, all the time the representatives should be among the highest, the most qualified person in the Iranian society.

SHUSTER: 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.

One of those outspoken in opposition is Zahra Eshraghi, the granddaughter of Ayatollah Khomeini. Khomeini led the movement to overthrow the Shah of Iran 30 years ago and fashioned the key mechanisms of Islamic government here — a system his granddaughter is now campaigning against.

Ms. ZAHRA ESHRAGHI (Granddaughter of Ayatollah Khomeini): (Through translator) It's illegal, it's not fair, and it's not competitive — the whole system, governing system of the country. 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.

(Soundbite of music)

SHUSTER: 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.

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, believes they are more unified than in recent years.

Mr. BEHZAD GAREYAZI (Candidate, Coalition of Reformists): There is much more competition among principalists than what you can see among the reformists.

SHUSTER: 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.

Mr. HEYDAR POURIAN (Editor, Iran Economics Monthly): There is 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.

SHUSTER: Late yesterday, the Supreme Leader urged Iranians to vote against those who are supported by Iran's enemies, a not so subtle hint that the reformists have the backing of the United States.

Mike Shuster, NPR News, Tehran.

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