Iran to review disqualification of presidential election candidates

Decision comes as Khamenei admits ‘some were wronged in vetting process’ after just 7 of 600 candidates were approved to run in race many say is a foregone conclusion

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a video conference with a group of university students, in Tehran, Iran, May 11, 2021. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a video conference with a group of university students, in Tehran, Iran, May 11, 2021. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Iran’s election watchdog announced Friday that it will review decisions to disqualify candidates from the presidential election scheduled for later this month after the country’s Supreme Leader said some of them had been “wronged.”

“In the vetting process some candidates were wronged. They were accused of untrue things that were unfortunately spread throughout the internet too. Protecting people’s honor is one of the most important issues. I call on the responsible bodies to restore their honor,” Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei tweeted.

“The orders of the Supreme Leader are final and his ruling must be obeyed. The Guardian Council will soon announce its opinion, acknowledging that it is not immune to error,” Guardian Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodai said in a subsequent statement.

Iranians are set to elect a successor to President Hassan Rouhani on June 18 amid widespread discontent over a deep economic and social crisis.

Last month, the Guardian Council, which vets candidates approved just seven of them to run in the election from a field of about 600 hopefuls.

It was not immediately clear if exonerated candidates could run in this vote.

The presidential election campaign officially kicked off last Friday, without fanfare and in an atmosphere of indifference as many say the result is a foregone conclusion.

Also on Friday, Khamenei urged voters to turn out for the election, warning that staying away would mean doing the work of the “enemies of Islam.”

“Some want to give up the duty to participate in the election with absurd reasons,” Khamenei said, in a televised speech. “It is the will of the enemies, the enemies of Iran, the enemies of Islam and the enemies of religious democracy.”

Khamenei last week made similar calls urging people not to heed calls to boycott the poll.

The opposition based outside Iran is running a campaign on social media networks calling for people to stay away from the polls, using hashtags in Farsi such as #NototheIslamicRepublic.

“It has been said that some people are reluctant to go to the ballot box due to the pressures on their livelihoods, which we all know and experience,” Khamenei said, adding that such problems are solved “by making the right choice, not by not choosing.”

This combination of pictures created on shows from top L to R: Iranian presidential candidate Amirhossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi, Iranian judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi, Iranian former chief of the Revolutionary Guards Mohsen Rezai, former Iranian vice president Mohsen Mehralizadeh, the head of Iran’s Central Bank Naser Hemati (Hemmati), conservative presidential candidate, Alireza Zakani, and former top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

He also quoted the Islamic republic’s late founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, saying that, under certain circumstances, to abstain from voting is “one of the worst deadly sins.”

The Guardian Council — a conservative-dominated, unelected body — disqualified moderate conservative Ali Larijani and first vice-president Eshaq Jahangiri, as well as firebrand former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Only two reformist candidates, neither with broad national appeal, are facing five ultra-conservative runners.

The vetting decisions appear to have cleared the way for a strong run by ultraconservative judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi.

But it also unleashed a flood of criticism of the Guardian Council and is expected to lead to an increase in voter abstention.

Larijani, an adviser to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and former parliamentary speaker, was seen as the only person capable of challenging Raisi, according to local media.

Raisi won 38 percent of the vote in the 2017 presidential election but was defeated by incumbent Rouhani, who is constitutionally barred from running for a third consecutive term.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, April 14, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Rouhani, a moderate who has governed with the support of reformists and also moderate conservatives like Larijani, has been an advocate of detente with the West and of ending Iran’s international isolation.

Instead, Iran was plunged into a deep recession after former US president Donald Trump torpedoed Rouhani’s signature achievement, the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers which offered sanctions relief in return for Tehran’s pledge never to acquire an atomic weapon.

The deal galvanized ultra-conservative opposition.

But with negotiations underway in Vienna on reviving the accord, it is not expected to be the focus of the election campaign.

Supreme leader Khamenei, who has endorsed a continuation of the nuclear talks to secure the lifting of sanctions, has taken the issue out of the equation for the candidates, urging them instead to campaign on economic issues such as youth unemployment.

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