Q&A: What it takes to run for Iran presidency

Al Jazeera speaks with one of Iran’s leading constitutional experts on the opaque and highly selective vetting process.

Iranians read the headlines on the presidential candidates approved by the Guardian Council [AFP]

Iranians aspiring to run for the country’s presidency face a formidable vetting process.

The Guardian Council (GC) has had the final say in which candidates are allowed to stand. The Council is composed of six clerics and six lawyers, and has a track record of favouring conservative candidates.

The candidates who will be running in the June 14 presidential vote to replace President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were announced on Tuesday. Eight made the cut, most of them viewed as loyalists, out of the 686 who registered.

Al Jazeera’s Yasmine Ryan interviewed Mehrzad Boroujerdi, president of the International Society for Iranian Studies and director of the Middle Eastern Studies Program at Syracuse University, via email.

As Boroujerdi noted, the percentage of candidates out of those registered to run has dropped dramatically as the Islamic Republic, established in 1979, has consolidated its grip on power.

Some 77 percent were allowed to run in 1980, but that was slashed to 5.6 percent the following year. By 2001, the figure was as low as 1.2 percent, and in the controversial 2009 election, a mere 0.8 percent.

Al Jazeera: Candidates of parliamentary and presidential elections have needed to be qualified by the Guardian Council in order to run for election since 1991. What led to this change?

Mehrzad Boroujerdi: As the Islamic Republic consolidated itself, the percentage of candidates who were allowed to run for presidency dramatically declined.

The Guardian Council became the filtering device for deciding the revolutionary pedigree and the degree of loyalty of candidates, and as the percentages above demonstrate, the “circle of trust” became narrower and narrower over time. What changed in 1991 was that the GC was given more of an official mandate to prevent candidates from running for office.

AJ: The criteria laid out in Article 115 of the Constitution are very broad. In practice, what type of grounds can lead to a candidate being disqualified?

MB: Since the GC does not need to provide an explanation for its decisions, it is never clear why certain candidates are disqualified. Generally, the GC can disqualify candidates on such broad accounts as lack of adequate loyalty to the Islamic regime, the Constitution, and the principal of velayat-e faqih (the rule of the jurisconsult), corruption, inadequate ethical standards, gender, and of course – while not officially stated – reformist proclivities.

AJ: Does the Guardian Council need to justify the disqualification of candidates?

MB: The Guardian Council can privately inform the candidates as to why they can’t vouch for their qualifications, but they hardly mention specific circumstances publically. In the past the spokesperson for the Council has justified this lack of transparency by maintaining that the GC receives many confidential reports about candidates from the security-intelligence apparatuses, and sharing such information publicly can be ruinous for candidates’ reputation.

AJ: Last week, the Guardian Council barred women candidates from running for the presidency. What was the reasoning behind this decision?

MB: In Iran, we face the rather awkward situation where women are allowed to register as presidential candidates, but they won’t be approved by the GC to run on account of their gender. This bizarre situation is caused by the ambiguous terminology used in the Constitution. In that document, it mentions that those who wish to run for presidency need to be arajol siyasi, a political personality. The GC interprets this to mean males only, although many women and rights activists object to this interpretation.

AJ: Is it true that the Council tends to favour military candidates over reformist candidates?

MB: It is true that due to the conservative predispositions of the members of GC they prefer conservative – not necessarily military – candidates over reformist candidates. The election fiasco of 2009 has made the GC even more sceptical of reformist candidates.

Source: Al Jazeera