Iran's Guardian Council disqualifies reformist poll candidates

A leaked copy of the list shows a focus on hardline and conservative politicians

FILE PHOTO: Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani attends a news conference in Damascus, Syria February 16, 2020. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki/File Photo
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Iran’s Guardian Council has prepared a list of seven candidates eligible to run in the June 18 presidential election.

The official list was released on Tuesday, hours after a leaked copy was obtained by Fars news. The list released by the Council included mostly hardline and conservative candidates and was notably missing Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani and Vice President Es'haq Jahangiri.

Another notable absentee was former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, although he wasn't expected to have made the list. Mr Ahmadinejad was also rejected by the council in Iran's last presidential election.

The surprising exclusion of Mr Larijani and Mr Jahangiri is a blow to the centrists and reformists. Mr Larijani was expected to be hardline candidate Ebrahim Raisi’s main challenger.

Mr Larijani, billed as moderate, was appointed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as a special envoy for China and had vowed to continue current President Rouhani's westward facing policies.

Diplomats in Vienna are have been trying to negotiate a return of both Iran and the US to the nuclear agreement since April, a move Mr Larijani is thought to support.
Mr Jahangiri, running as a centrist and a moderate, was also disqualified.

Adnan Tabatabai, an analyst and Co-Founder and CEO of Bonn-baased research group Carpo said it is important to look at why establishment candidates like Mr Larijani and Mr Jahangiri were disqualified.

"We will have to wait and see what comes of this because at this point there is really only speculation. I do think there is a desire to shift the country's executive branch to the right and this desire has been more or less visible in this list of candidates."

But the Guardian Council's list can still be amended.

Ayatollah Khamenei can intervene and approve candidates himself as well. In the past, both with former President Khatami and President Rouhani, the Supreme Leader had intervened, ordering the Guardian Council to let them run.

Mr Tabatabai said he does see a possible intervention by Mr Khamenei to widen the scope of the political field although he said it is too early to tell who he would intervene for.

A number of Iranian news outlets have also speculated that Mr Khamenei will likely step in and approve Mr Larijani’s candidacy.

The disqualification of the moderate candidates is likely to affect the voter turnout, which is expected to be an all-time low. Mr Tabatabai said participation this round could be below 50 per cent, a sign of apathy towards the political process.

Iran's electorate, aside from suffering general political apathy, have long been skeptical of the election process, an issue that came to a head in 2009 following allegations of electoral fraud.

This year, if the Guardian Council's list holds without substantial changes it would likely "further delegitimise the system for many Iranians," said Sina Toossi, a senior research analyst at NIAC, the National Iranian American Council.
Voters and politicians alike have criticised the Guardian Council's narrow list. Mr Raisi himself has reportedly called on the council to expand the list of candidates.

Mr Raisi's reported criticism of the list highlights one of the issues he is now facing ahead of the election.

"While the Guardian Council’s action gives Raisi a relatively far easier path to victory, it also fundamentally stains any legitimacy his election would have. The Guardian Council has transparently made this election largely ceremonial. Many Iranians will believe this race was decided before it even started," says Mr Toossi.

The editor-in-chief of Tasnim News, a news agency linked to the IRGC also took to Twitter to say that the list of candidates should reflect different perspectives.

But the most surprising criticism of the list came from a member of the Guardian Council, brother of disqualified candidate Ali Larijani, Amoli Larijani.

Mr Larijani took to twitter writing, "I have defended the Guardian Council, even during my years in the judiciary. But I have never found the decisions of the council so indefensible." He went on to say Iran's security arm had interferred in the decision making.

Iranian elections, Mr Tabatabai said, are always surprising so how the next three weeks will play out is still unclear and a lot could change.

"I have to say there are still many questions. Even when the campaign starts there can still be reshuffling, we may see people approved by the supreme leaders intervention. It is all very open."