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Iran’s exclusionary process of vetting candidates for the March 14 parliamentary elections violates the principles of a free and fair election, Human Rights Watch said today. The widespread disqualifications of candidates, most from reformist factions, show that authorities are rejecting candidates on politically motivated grounds.

The slate of candidates approved for the election shows that reformists have been permitted to stand for only a minority of the seats and therefore factions close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei will win a majority. While there will be much competition among hardliners, reformist candidates are on the ballot in only about 106 out of the 290 districts.

“The Iranian authorities are effectively rigging the elections by stacking the candidate lists,” said Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division. “It’s clear Iranian voters won’t have a free say in choosing their representatives.”

Candidates competing for 290 seats in the republic’s eighth parliament must submit to evaluations by both the Interior Ministry and an unelected body of 12 religious jurists known as the Guardian Council.

The Ministry of Interior conducts a first cut of applicants based on criteria set by the election laws. While some of these criteria are concrete, such as age limits and educational requirements, most are so vague that they enable authorities to make sweeping decisions without accountability.

Once the Ministry of Interior compiles a list of “qualified” candidates, the Guardian Council reviews it and makes a final decision on who may stand for election.

In January 2008, the Ministry of Interior announced that it had rejected more than 2,000 out of 7,597 applicants, citing such reasons for disqualifying candidates as “having ill repute in their place of residency,” “insulting religious sanctities,” and “acting against the state.”

The Guardian Council and members of the political elite then carried out a series of secret negotiations for over a month, leading to the reinstatement of some disqualified candidates and the exclusion of others. The total number of disqualifications remained roughly the same.

Most of the disqualified candidates are affiliated with reformist factions, notably those close to former president Mohammad Khatami. Individuals identifying with the principalists, the hardliner faction close to Khamenei, make up the majority of approved candidates.

In February 2008, Guardian Council spokesperson Abbas-Ali Kadkhodayee claimed that complaints filed regarding disqualifications would be assessed without political prejudice and asserted that “the majority if not all” of the voting districts were competitive.
As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Iran is obligated to allow its citizens equal opportunity to compete as candidates in elections, without being subject to “unreasonable restrictions.” The ICCPR requires elections to guarantee the “free expression of the will of the electors.”

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