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Iran: Reformists Reportedly Disqualified From Local Elections

Tehran Mayor Muhammad Baqer Qalibaf (file photo) (AFP) WASHINGTON, November 28, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The names of vetted candidates for upcoming municipal council elections in Iran will be announced in the final days of November, some two weeks before the actual voting takes place. Preliminary reports from around the country suggest mass disqualifications of reformists in the provinces, in contrast with official reports of inclusiveness.

Behind the scenes, factional disputes and competition are preventing the formation of election coalitions, a development that will hinder the reformist challengers.

Heshmatollah Falahat-Pisheh, a parliamentarian and spokesman for Iran's Central Committee for Monitoring Council Elections, said on November 25 that a final figure on the number of qualified candidates is not available yet, ILNA reported. He added that 700 candidates who were previously disqualified were reinstated.

Reformist parties see victory in the council elections as an important step in regaining the elected offices lost to fundamentalists in 2004 and 2005. The fundamentalists see the elections as an important stage in continuing their winning streak and cementing their hold on power.

Reformers Approved In Tehran...

Six days earlier, Falahat-Pisheh said, "According to the figures we received from some 28 provinces, the average disqualification rate in executive committees was 11 percent in cities and 5 percent in villages; and supervisory committee reviews have reduced these numbers by 50 percent."

Tehran is considered the bellwether of national politics, even though Iran is an enormous country of roughly 70 million people. Falahat-Pisheh claimed on November 19 that all the reformists in Tehran were approved as candidates.

According to Ahmad Karimi-Isfahani, a member of the executive committee for council elections in Tehran Province, "All the inquisitions and qualification assessments for the candidates of Tehran have been finalized and it must be mentioned that 1,243 people were qualified, 191 disqualified, and seven resigned from running."

Although reformists may have won approval in Tehran, there are reports of widespread disqualifications of them in other parts of the country. Referring to Shiraz, the capital of Fars Province, the Islamic Labor Party's Abdullah Amiri said all the reformists were rejected. Approving reformists in Tehran, he continued, is meant to hide the disqualifications elsewhere. Moreover, Amiri said, the reformists are unlikely to win in Tehran.

...Rejected In Provinces?

Also referring to the provincial disqualifications, Hussein Kashefi, deputy secretary-general of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front, charged that there is opposition to the holding of legitimate elections. "They only wish to have some show elections," he added.

Ayatollah Jalaledin Taheri-Isfahani, a member of the Assembly of Experts, said on November 25 that all the prospective reformist candidates in Isfahan were rejected.

In late October and early November the focus was more on coalitions and rivalries than it was on individual candidates. With the conservatives, there was talk of a competition between the allies of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, who had run against Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential race.

Qalibaf allegedly annoyed Ahmadinejad, his predecessor as Tehran mayor, when he appointed Mohsen Hashemi as head of the Tehran subway system. Hashemi is the son of Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, the former president and Ahmadinejad rival who, for the fundamentalists, symbolizes corruption and a retreat on Islamist ideology. The president reacted by not allowing Qalibaf to attend cabinet meetings and by showing reluctance in releasing funds for the subway's budget.

Linking The Conservatives

Around this time, there was talk of pro-Ahmadinejad and pro-Qalibaf factions, and also of a more traditional conservative faction associated with the Islamic Coalition Party. The entities carried names such as the Council of Elders, the Council of Trustees, Front for Followers of the Line of the Imam and the Leader, and the Association of the Loyal Supporters of the Islamic Revolution. Despite the different names, their memberships were sometimes identical, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on November 11.

The Islamic Coalition Party tried to put itself above these conflicts and rivalries. Secretary-General Mohammad Nabi Habibi said the party wants to serve as a link between the fundamentalist groups.

By late November, it appeared that the quest for a unified list of conservative candidates remained unfulfilled. Hassan Ghafurifard, former secretary-general of the Society of the Loyalists of the Islamic Revolution, said, "with only three weeks to go to the elections, there are still no clear prospects of attaining a single list for the [fundamentalists]." He said the Qalibaf and Ahmadinejad backers have their own lists.

Like the conservatives, the reformists are finding it difficult to achieve unity. Fatemeh Karrubi of the Islamic Association of Women said that her group shares many of the reformists' views, but it will have its own list. She added that there is no complete reformist list yet, but said one will be announced at the end of the week.

The December 15 elections for municipal councils may seem unimportant in terms of national politics. Although called for in the constitution, council elections did not take place until 1999. Former President Mohammad Khatami and other reformists promoted the councils as an important step in the development of civil society institutions in Iran, and voter participation in the 1999 elections was noteworthy.

Disappointed In The Councils

The councils did not live up to practical expectations, however, not least because they do not have any significant powers or responsibilities. They deal with construction permits, fire departments, garbage collection, parks, public transportation, roads, and street cleaning. The central government is responsible for everything else, such as education, electricity, and the provision of water.

A recent commentary in a reformist daily -- "Mardom Salari" on November 22 -- claimed that an Interior Ministry poll found that less than 20 percent of residents of the country's medium and large cities are satisfied with the councils. The councils were criticized for their failure to consult with experts on urban management and, on those rare occasions when they did, only individuals who confirmed pre-existing views were chosen. The councils' lack of long-term planning was criticized, too.

Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati (Fars file photo)

There also are accusations of corruption. Friday Prayer leader Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati referred to this problem in his November 3 sermon in Tehran. Some of the councils, he said, "are governed by bribery," state television reported. "If you bribe them your business will be sorted out immediately and if you do not give in to bribery you will be running [around] for a year [trying] to sort out a trivial business," he said. "If you do not want to pay bribes you will be left behind doors for four to five years."

Despite these criticisms of the councils, there is stiff competition for a place on them. Reformist parties see victory in the council elections as an important step in regaining the elected offices lost to fundamentalists in the parliamentary race of 2004 and presidential race of 2005. The fundamentalists see the elections as an important stage in continuing their winning streak and cementing their hold on power.

The Structure Of Iran's Government

The Structure Of Iran's Government

INSIDE THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC: Iran is a theocratic Islamic republic governed under a 1979 constitution that was revised in 1989, when presidential powers were expanded and the prime minister's post was abolished.
Appointed -- not elected -- offices and bodies hold the real power in the government. The supreme leader, who serves as a chief of state would, is appointed for life by an Islamic religious advisory board that is called the Assembly of Experts. The supreme leader oversees the military as well as the judiciary and appoints members of the Guardians Council and the Expediency Council.
The Guardians Council -- some of whose members are appointed by the judiciary and approved by the parliament -- works closely with the government and must approve political candidates and legislation passed by the parliament. The Expediency Council is responsible for resolving legislative disputes that may arise between parliament and the Guardians Council over legislation.
The president, who is popularly elected for a four-year term, serves as the head of government. The legislative branch is made up of a 290-seat body called the Majlis, whose members are elected by popular vote for four-year terms...(more)


RFE/RL's coverage of Iran.