Iran’s president warned Monday of threats to the Islamic republic’s “democracy and national sovereignty” after a body dominated by his ultra-conservative rivals disqualified thousands of candidates, weeks before elections.
President Hassan Rouhani‘s moderate conservatives and their reformist allies are locked in a public quarrel with the Guardian Council over the disqualification of thousands of candidates – including 92 sitting MPs.
The council, which oversees Iran’s elections, says it has barred some 9,500 potential candidates from standing, almost two-thirds of the 14,500 hopefuls.
Rouhani, whose alliance fears losing its majority in the February 21 polls, said the disqualifications risked appointments being made “elsewhere” than the ballot box.
“The greatest danger for democracy and national sovereignty is the day when elections become a formality,” the government’s website quoted Rouhani as saying in a meeting with provincial governors.
“May God never bring this day,” he added.
“Let us reassure the people and tell them our system is not a single-party system.”
In an apparent reference to ultra-conservatives, he said “they should at least let there be competition and participation.”
He called on Iranians of all stripes to vote, “even if … there are shortcomings in elections.”
“Sometime I may not want to vote for some reason, but some other time I may not have enough trust to go to the ballot box; this is very dangerous,” he said.
Candidates who are disqualified are allowed to appeal before the elections.
The polls come after a traumatic month for Iran, in which it approached the brink of war with the United States and mistakenly shot down a passenger jet.
A U.S. drone strike in Iraq killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani on January 3, and Iran retaliated five days later by launching a wave of missiles at U.S. troops stationed in Iraq.
Hours later, with Iranian forces on high alert, its air defenses mistakenly shot down a Ukraine International Airlines passenger jet, killing all 176 people on board.
The disaster triggered scattered protests in Tehran and other cities, although they appeared smaller than nationwide demonstrations in November, sparked by a fuel price hike, in which Amnesty International said at least 300 people died.