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Iran bars former President Rohani from running in key election

Iran's flag (Dreamstime/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Iran’s former President Hassan Rohani has been disqualified from running in the upcoming election for the Assembly of Experts, a clerical body whose tasks include appointing and theoretically removing the supreme leader.

The decision to ban Rohani was made by the Guardians Council, Iran’s hard-line vetting body and constitutional watchdog whose members are directly and indirectly appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Rohani’s office announced the decision on January 24 in a brief statement without comment.

To be eligible to run in major elections in Iran, candidates must first be vetted and approved by the Guardians Council.

The Assembly of Experts is a council of 88 clerics whose members are elected every eight years by the public.

Rohani, who served as president between 2013 and 2021, has been on the Assembly of Experts continuously since 2000.

The ex-president has long been a target of criticism for hard-liners, who accuse him of ignoring national interests in his attempts to improve Iran’s relations with the West.

Since Khamenei became Iran’s supreme leader in 1989, every president has been sidelined after leaving office.

News of Rohani’s disqualification comes a day after conservative lawmaker Nasrollah Pejmanfar renewed the hard-liners’ criticism of Rohani’s approach toward the United States. He even threatened to expose what he dubbed the former president’s “dark files,” without elaborating further.

The Assembly of Experts election will be held simultaneously with the parliamentary polls on March 1.

Concerned about low voter turnout for the third consecutive nationwide election since 2020, Rohani had urged the authorities to facilitate a high turnout by allowing candidates from a wide political background to run in the elections.

For months, he has been warning about voter apathy, which he has attributed to public disillusionment and a deliberate strategy by hard-liners in power to ensure a low turnout.

The parliamentary election in 2020 and the presidential election in 2021 saw record low turnouts since the Islamic republic came to power in 1979, with official figures showing that less than half of eligible voters cast their ballots in both elections.

Nationwide unrest has rocked Iran in recent years in response to declining living standards, wage arrears, and a lack of welfare support.

Adding to the dissent, the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody in 2022 for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly started one of the deadliest protests against the clerical establishment, which lasted for months.

Those protests were met by a brutal crackdown as they grew into one of the biggest challenges faced by the Islamic republic since its inception.

Rights groups say more than 500 people were killed in the crackdown. At the height of the unrest, more than 19,000 people had been arrested, including over 90 journalists and bloggers.

Nine people arrested during the protests and charged with capital offenses have been executed.