Iranians got a first taste today of the campaign for next week’s elections, pitting reformists and moderates against conservatives in polls that could shape the country’s future over the next decade.
Voters will take part in two separate ballots—one to elect members of parliament and another to pick the Assembly of Experts, a powerful committee of 88 clerics who supervise the work of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s ultimate authority.
The run-up to voting day on February 26 has been dominated by controversy over who will be allowed to contest the elections rather than actual debate of the policies that candidates support.
All those seeking public office in Iran are vetted for their loyalty to the Islamic republic and almost half the applicants seeking to become candidates were excluded.
In the initial round of vetting, reformists suffered the heaviest blow, with thousands of candidates excluded.
That decision—taken by the Guardian Council, a watchdog that scrutinises and has veto power over who can stand—was criticised by Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s moderate president whose nuclear deal with world powers stands to open Iran up to the West.
After Rouhani and government ministers intervened, 1,500 rejected candidates were reinstated.
But grievances remain, particularly because of the exclusion of many prominent reformists.
Emphasising the tightly controlled nature of Iran’s elections, the application and vetting process has taken seven weeks while the parliamentary campaign will last only a week.
On the first official day of campaigning on Thursday, there were few posters on the streets and those that were visible represented candidates for the Assembly of Experts rather than parliament.
Would-be lawmakers are not allowed to make speeches in the street, and at venues where they are permitted to address voters or supporters, placards, posters or use of outside loudspeakers are forbidden.
Only 15-by-20-centimetre (six-by-eight-inch) posters of their credentials or policies are allowed to be put up or distributed.