Approval of reformists raises hopes for change in Iran
TEHRAN - Prominent but as yet unnamed reformists are among more than 1,400 initially rejected candidates now eligible to contest Iran's parliamentary elections on February 26, a government official said Tuesday.
The new approvals raise the potential for a change in the balance of power in Iran's parliament, a prospect that looked impossible after thousands of contenders were barred in a first round of vetting.
Anyone seeking to become one of Iran's 290 MPs must satisfy the Guardian Council, a conservative-dominated constitutional watchdog of clerics and jurists, of their suitability for public office.
No names of the new approvals have yet been officially released but a final list is expected on February 16.
Parliament is now dominated by conservatives, and a reformist official said that last month's exclusions had left only one percent -- 30 of the group's 3,000 candidates -- eligible for the election.
Iran's Interior Ministry, which will supervise the ballot, said efforts by President Hassan Rouhani's government led to previously barred reformists, moderates and conservatives being approved.
The number of people allowed to contest the parliamentary election now stands at 6,185 -- 51 percent of original applicants -- including 586 women.
"The fact that the Guardian Council added over 1,400 to the approved list shows the efficiency of the government's follow-ups and consultations," ministry spokesman Hossein Ali Amiri told reporters in Tehran.
"Reformists, moderates, and conservatives are among the newly approved," he said.
"There are prominent figures from the reformist and conservative camps."
On hearing of last month's rejections, reformists asked Rouhani, a moderate cleric with close ties to the reform movement, to intervene and seek changes.
Rouhani is hoping his allies can capitalise in the elections after last month's implementation of Iran's nuclear deal with world powers lifted longstanding sanctions, paving the way for a better economy.
Reformists, however, have been on the margins of parliament ever since they largely boycotted legislative polls four years ago.
They stayed away in protest after a disputed presidential election in 2009 had returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power.
The reformist leaders in that vote -- Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi -- alleged that the election was rigged. They have been held under house arrest since 2011.
The February 26 parliamentary ballot coincides with elections to Iran's highest clerical body, the Assembly of Experts, a powerful committee that monitors the work of the country's supreme leader.
Voters will elect 88 members to the assembly.
The Assembly election is seen by many as more important than the parliamentary polls as its members will be elected for eight years and they could select the next supreme leader if the incumbent, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is 76, dies during that time.