Iranian president urges voters to go to the polls
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Iranian president urges voters to go to the polls

Rouhani warns of a threat to democracy by clerical hard-liners after a body dominated by ultra-conservatives disqualified thousands of candidates before February parliamentary vote

President Hassan Rouhani speaks in Tehran, Iran on January 16, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Presidency via AP)
President Hassan Rouhani speaks in Tehran, Iran on January 16, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Presidency via AP)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called Tuesday for a massive turnout in next month’s parliamentary election, which looks set to be challenging for the coalition government.

“We hope that all our people will come to the polls and participate because these elections will have consequences for our regional and international policy,” as well as in Iran, he said.

Rouhani, a relative moderate, made the appeal during a televised speech to mark the inauguration of water sanitation projects near Tehran.

The alliance of relative moderates and reformers that propelled Rouhani to power in 2013 is scrambling to avoid losing its majority in the February 21 election.

An Iranian mourner holds a placard during the final stage of funeral processions for slain top general Qasem Soleimani, in his hometown Kerman on January 7, 2020. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

On Monday, Rouhani warned of threats to the Islamic Republic’s “democracy and national sovereignty,” after a body dominated by ultra-conservatives disqualified thousands of candidates.

The Guardian Council said it had barred about 9,500 potential candidates from standing – almost two thirds of the 14,500 hopefuls.

Moderates fear that widespread disqualifications could result in more people abstaining, which traditionally helps the ultra-conservatives.

Candidates who are barred are allowed to appeal before the election.

The polls come after a difficult month for Iran, in which it came close to the brink of war with the United States and mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet, killing all 176 people on board.

Rouhani oversaw a landmark nuclear deal with major powers in 2015 that granted Iran relief from international sanctions in return for curbs on its atomic program.

But the accord has threatened to collapse since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States in 2018, before reimposing a series of intensifying economic sanctions on Iran.

In this Jan. 11, 2020, file photo, protesters hold flowers as tear gas fired by police rises at a demonstration in front of Amir Kabir University in Tehran, Iran, to remember victims of a Ukrainian airplane shot down by an Iranian missile. (AP Photo/File)

Rouhani on Tuesday called the Trump administration “the worst government” the United States has seen and pledged to continue working on Iran’s development despite the sanctions.

Iran put down street protests by students and others over the downing of the flight. But those demonstrations pale in comparison to recent unrest faced by Iran, particularly protests over government-set gasoline prices spiking in November. That unrest saw at least 300 people killed, according to Amnesty International.

While an earlier round of nationwide economic protests struck at the end of 2017, things only have gotten worse with the sanctions re-imposed on the country by Trump withdrawing from the nuclear deal, particularly those blocking Iran from selling crude oil abroad. Without that crucial source of government funding, Iran’s government struggles to make ends meet.

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