Ali Reza Afshar official figure was lower than the 3,000 candidates that reformist newspapers and several party officials said had been disqualified.

 

Under the Iranian political system, potential candidates must be vetted twice, once by the interior ministry and the second time by the Guardian Council, the country's constitutional watchdog.

 

But Afshar said those disqualified can appeal the decision.

 

He said that "instead of resorting to political fuss and taking the issue to the press, those disqualified can appeal through legal channels".

 

Final list

 

The council will announce a final list of approved candidates on March 5 after determining if any are disloyal to principles of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

 

"The number of candidates disqualified is surprising"

Abdollah Naseri, reformist group spokesman
The government said it mailed letters to prospective candidates informing them of the decision, which has provoked widespread condemnation from reformists.

 

Abdollah Naseri, spokesman for an umbrella group of 21 reformist factions, said worrying reports have been confirmed.

 

"The number of candidates disqualified is surprising."

 

Mohammad Khatami, the former Iranian president and reformist, said the government had no right to deprive Iranians the right to contest.

 

Many of those disqualified were key legislators or cabinet ministers during Khatami's tenure.

 

Speaking to Al Jazeera in Tehran, Saeed Shariati, a spokesman for the reformist Participation party, said one of the main concerns was a move towards a closed administration with power centralised in one person.

 

"[That] is the beginning of deterioration of any political structure in the new age."