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Iran’s Hardliners Strike Back

Michael Johnson
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani giving a speech on January 17, 2016. (Photo: AFP)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani criticized his country’s religious establishment on Thursday, questioning the method hardliners use to keep power. Rouhani’s comments came after a big blow to reformists earlier in the week, when conservatives on the Guardian Council disqualified thousands of would-be parliamentary candidates.

In a televised speech to provincial governors in Tehran, Rouhani described the move as inconsistent with Iran’s self-proclaimed representative system. “It is called the House of the Nation, not the house of one faction,” the President said, “If there is one faction and the other is not there, they don’t need the February 26 elections.”

Members of the reformist political movement are upset with the Guardian Council’s decision to disqualify approximately 40% of the 12,000 candidates that applied to run in the February 26th elections for Parliament and the Assembly of Experts. According to political activists, of the near 3,000 candidates considered reformist, only 30, or 1%, were judged as being sufficiently loyal to the ruling system to be able to run.

This week’s decision highlights how the Guardian Council remains the one of the most important mechanisms for the continuation of the theocratic regime in Tehran. The Council, which consists of six clerics appointed by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and six judges nominated by parliament, has long used candidate vetting as its mechanism to rig elections — months before voters even cast their ballots. In the last Parliamentary election alone, more than 2000 candidates were deemed ineligible and 30 sitting MPs were barred from running again for their own seats. Even with political infighting in government, ultimately, the ruling establishment firmly controls the people and the process.