Iran official points to more open elections

Marc Jourdier
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At Iran's last parliamentary election in February 2016, the ultra-conservative dominated Guardian Council, which vets candidates, barred nearly 50 percent of hopefuls

A senior Iranian official has suggested in an interview with AFP that authorities may be more open than in the past in approving candidates for a looming parliamentary election.

"We don't consider ourselves immune from criticism. We may also accept that mistakes have been made in the past," said Guardian Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaee.

"But for the next legislative elections we are trying to reduce our mistakes and respect the rights of candidates."

Kadkhodaee was speaking to AFP on the eve of the opening on Sunday of the registration of candidates for the parliamentary election to be held on February 21.

The Guardian Council, which is under the control of ultra-conservatives, is responsible for organising and monitoring elections in Iran, including vetting candidates.

"If we insist on enforcing the law, we'll be able to satisfy as many candidates as possible," said Kadkhodaee.

In past elections, the council has faced accusations in Iran, particularly by reformists, of barring candidates more on political than constitutional grounds.

In November, President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate conservative, called on the council to stick to the letter of the law in view of the forthcoming election.

At Iran's last parliamentary election in February 2016, the council authorised 6,229 candidates for the 290 seats at stake -- just over 51 percent of those who sought to stand.

In the interview, Kadkhodaee said a higher number of successful candidates should also lead to a "higher participation rate".

The opening of the registration period, which runs until Saturday, comes two weeks after around 100 cities and towns in sanctions-hit Iran saw protests against a shock fuel price hike that turned violent.

Authorities say they have restored calm after "rioting" backed by enemies of the Islamic republic, including the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

London-based human rights group Amnesty International said 161 demonstrators were killed in a crackdown.

- 'Unjust economic sanctions' -

But Iran's deputy interior minister, Jamal Orf, said such figures were "exaggerated", in remarks published on Saturday by state news agency IRNA.

For Kadkhodaee, the unrest was not a sign of the rejection of the political system of the Islamic republic.

The people would "continue to support the country despite the difficulties, as they have patiently endured the unjust economic sanctions imposed by Western countries," he said.

They would "continue to support the Iranian political system", he added.

Iran's economy has been battered since last year when the United States withdrew from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal and began reimposing crippling sanctions.

The International Monetary Fund expects the country's economy to shrink by 9.5 percent this year.

"Sometimes the participation rate can be low when the people are not happy with the country's economic situation," said Kadkhodaee.

"But we are sure that we will have a good participation rate, even if it is lower than it may have been in the past," said the Guardian Council spokesman.

"Generally in Iran, the participation rate is between 50 and 70 percent, depending on the economic and social situation in the country," he told AFP.

"Even if the turnout is low, it does not endanger the Iranian political system. We know that there are ups and downs depending on elections.

"Personally I expect and hope that the rate will be higher than 50 percent."