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Iranian Elections: Who's Running, Who's Not Running, And Who Isn't Allowed To Run

An Iranian woman walks past electoral posters on a street in Tehran.

There will be more than 7,000 candidates contesting Iran’s parliamentary elections -- less than half of those who applied to stand in the nationwide vote on February 21.

The candidates are mostly conservatives and hard-liners who exhibit absolute loyalty to the country's supreme leader, but there will also be a smattering of lesser-known reformists and moderates who support engagement with the West.

The Guardians Council, which vets all candidates, has provoked controversy by disqualifying some 9,000 of the 16,000 people who registered to run, including 90 current lawmakers, according to the Interior Ministry.

The mass disqualifications – targeting reformist and moderate candidates – is the most since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that ushered in a theocratic system.

Many people frustrated by the poor economic situation in the country and the lack of choice in the elections have said they will boycott the elections in a show of displeasure toward the government.

Below are some of the most prominent figures running, the ones who are not, and the ones who were disqualified.


Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf

The conservative former mayor of Tehran unsuccessfully ran for the presidency three times. If he wins, the former police chief and air force commander within the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is seen as a prime candidate to become the next parliament speaker. As mayor, he was accused of incompetence and corruption.​

Former Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf (file photo)
Former Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf (file photo)

Mostafa Mirsalim

Mirsalim, a conservative, is a former culture minister whose 1994-97 tenure was marked with increased restrictions and censorship. He has criticized President Hassan Rohani’s outreach to the West as ineffectual, saying the result has been new restrictions on Iran and continued sanctions against the country. The French-educated Mirsalim has taught mechanical engineering at Tehran’s Amir Kabir University.

Masud Pezeshkian

He is among the few reformist lawmakers permitted to run for reelection. Pezeshkian, a former health minister, is a reformist lawmaker from the mainly ethnic Azeri-populated city of Tabriz. The deputy parliament speaker, he is expected to battle with Qalibaf for the leadership of the legislature.


Ali Larijani

Iran’s powerful parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, decided not to contest the elections. The conservative Larijani has been speaker since 2008. Larijani's brothers also hold key posts in the country. Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani is the head of the country’s judiciary and Mohammad Javad Larijani heads the judiciary's Human Rights Council. There has been speculation that Larijani intends to run for president in 2021.

Mohammad Reza Aref

Aref served as vice president under reformist President Mohammad Khatami. In the 2013 presidential election he withdrew from the race to increase Rohani's chances of winning. In the 2016 parliamentary elections, Aref won his seat in Tehran. He has headed the reformist faction in parliament.

Saeed Jalili

Saeed Jalili (right) at a meeting with an Iranian military officer (file photo)
Saeed Jalili (right) at a meeting with an Iranian military officer (file photo)

Jalili was Iran's former top nuclear negotiator under President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. An ultra-hard-liner, he is said to be loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and his public remarks closely echo the country's top leader. In the 2013 presidential election he was known as the establishment's candidate of choice.


Ali Motahari

Motahari, a moderate, is one of the very few insiders in the Islamic republic who openly criticizes the system. Representing Tehran, he has criticized the house arrest of opposition figures Mir Hossein Musavi; Musavi's wife, Zahra Rahnavard; and reformist cleric Mehdi Karrubi. Motahari has also suggested he could run for president in 2021.

Mahmud Sadeghi

Sadeghi was an obscure legal expert until his election to parliament in 2016 as one of moderates allied with Rohani. An outspoken lawmaker, Sadeghi has been an irritant to the conservative establishment ever since. He has aired defiant criticism of state repression and censorship.

Shahindokht Molaverdi

Molaverdi, a special assistant to Rohani on citizen's rights, previously served as vice president on women's affairs. She has expressed commitment to gender equality and angered hard-liners for her efforts to promote women’s rights.

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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan is the editor for Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan in the Central Newsroom at RFE/RL. Previously, he was a correspondent and reported from Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Turkey. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2011, he worked as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan and contributed to several Australian newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.