Iran’s Rouhani says he is banned from running in March election for elite assembly

The 88-member Assembly of Experts appoints, supervises and can dismiss the country’s supreme leader

FILE - In this Dec. 31, 2017 file photo, released by official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran. New unrest in Iran over the past 10 days appears to be waning, but anger over the economy persists. The protests in dozens of towns and cities also showed that a sector of the public was willing to openly call for the removal of Iran’s system of rule by clerics -- frustrated not just by the economy but also by concern over Iran’s foreign wars and general direction. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP, File)
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Former Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that he has been barred by the Guardian Council from running in the March election for the Assembly of Experts.

One of the main tasks for the 88-member assembly is to appoint, supervise and, if needed, dismiss the country’s supreme leader – who has the final say in all matters of state in Iran.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 84, has been in that post since 1989.

The jurists in charge of vetting hopefuls “did not approve” Mr Rouhani's candidacy for a new term on the Assembly of Experts, his official website said. It did not elaborate on the reason.

He was first elected to the body in 1999 and in November he announced that he was seeking a new term.

Mr Rouhani served as Iran's president from 2013 to 2021. Close to moderates, he was elected in a landslide in 2013 and 2017 on a promise to reduce Iran's diplomatic isolation.

In 2015, he reached a nuclear pact with six major powers, angering the political hardliners who opposed any rapprochement with the US.

The deal unravelled in 2018 when then-US president Donald Trump ditched the agreement and reimposed sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy. Efforts to revive the pact have failed.

“There was no reason given for the Guardian Council's decision,” a source close to Mr Rouhani told Reuters, adding that “no decision has been made yet for an appeal” as he has three days to object.

“Rouhani has been a member of the assembly since 1999 for three terms. It will be interesting to see what the reason for his disqualification was,” he added.

The 12-member Guardian Council, which oversees elections and legislation, disqualified 80 per cent of candidates running for the assembly in its last election in 2016.

Moderate politicians have accused the Guardian Council of disqualifying rivals, and said excluding candidates from the race undermines the vote's legitimacy.

A low turnout for the upcoming parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections is expected, with Mr Rouhani saying last week that the majority of people do not want to vote and that this will favour the ruling minority which relies on low turnout.

With Mr Rouhani's disqualification, the Guardian Council had made it clear that hardliners intended to keep moderates away from the assembly, a pro-reform insider told Reuters.

The Guardian Council has also disqualified hundreds of hopefuls running for the parliamentary election, also to be held on March 1, Reuters reported.

State media reported that only 30 mid-ranking moderate candidates have been qualified to stand for the 290-seat parliament. Around 12,000 hopefuls will run, state media reported.

Updated: January 24, 2024, 1:24 PM