Spotlight on Parliament: How to Become a Candidate
In the 2016 Iranian parliamentary elections 12,123 people registered to be candidates. That is twice the number that registered in the 2012 parliamentary elections, and an average of 42 people competing for each of parliament’s 290 seats.
Becoming a parliamentary candidate in Iran, however, is not as straightforward as in Western liberal democracies. In the Islamic Republic registration is not enough to become a candidate. Aspirants who register must go through an arduous weeks-long vetting process before they can become candidates and campaign. In the 2012 elections, for example, 36 percent of aspirants were disqualified. Below is a basic overview of how the process works.¹
(Also see: How to Become a Parliamentary Election Candidate in Iran: An Overview infographic)
Registration, Review, and Decision-making
Once an election is declared, aspiring candidates have seven days to register in their electoral district. The upcoming 2016 elections opened for registration on 19 December 2015. Before an aspirant can register to be considered for candidacy, they must meet seven criteria and not fall under any of upward of 12 exclusionary categories.
The Ministry of Interior, overseen by a presidentially appointed minister and responsible for elections, receives registrations and, in concert with the Guardian Council, which is primarily under the oversight of the supreme leader, passes them along to the quartet of reviewing bodies.
The quartet of reviewing bodies is made up of the Ministry of Intelligence, the Attorney General’s Office, the Police’s identification and international bureaus, and the National Organisation for Civil Registration. They are responsible for conducting identity, criminal, and security background checks on aspiring candidates within five days of receiving applications, and for passing this information to the Interior Ministry and Guardian Council. The quartet seek out information that may indicate an aspirant does not meet the necessary criteria and the results are then sent to every electoral district’s implementation council for decision-making.
Implementation councils are 30-person bodies in each electoral district nominated by the their district governorate.² Another body in each electoral district, supervision councils, which are local representatives of the Guardian Council, then have three days to determine if the implementation council nominees they oversee are qualified.³ Once implementation councils are appointed, they make preliminary decisions about whether aspiring candidates are qualified based on information provided by the quartet and their own investigation. Once registration closes, an implementation council has 10 days to go through all the applications and give the Guardian Council the results for final approval. An aspirant who is disqualified can appeal to the Guardian Council for reconsideration.
The process of becoming a parliamentary election candidate in Iran can be complex and there are numerous obstacles in the paths of citizens who seek elected office. The Guardian Council, above all, has final say over an aspiring candidate’s qualification and approves national election results, giving it a veto over which individuals and groups can enter Iran’s political elite. Its decisions are opaque and often appear politically motivated or arbitrary. The expectation of being disqualified may discourage many aspirants from registering to run in the first place.
Another issue is the Iranian electoral system’s lack of independence. The presidency, reaching down to the local level through the Interior Ministry and provincial, county, and district governorates, oversees elections. The president can thus exert influence on elections, subject to the Guardian Council’s acquiescence, as many think happened in the controversial 2009 presidential election. Finally, independent monitoring of Iranian elections is also obstructed by authorities, making it difficult to investigate irregularities and verify voter turnout and results.
In the run up to the 2016 elections, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani argued that the primary authority to vet aspiring candidates lay with implementation councils and called on the Guardian Council to play a purely supervisory role, saying that the Guardian Council is an “eye” that “cannot do the job of a hand.” In the same vein, Rouhani highlighted the body’s practice of mass disqualifying entire political groups, saying that all legal groups should be respected and individual candidates judged on their merits rather than on their political affiliations. Rouhani’s attempt to reinterpret and limit the role of the Guardian Council in Iranian national elections, however, was rejected by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s highest authority.
Iranian parliamentary elections are thus likely to continue to be governed by the current process for at least the remainder of the present supreme leader’s tenure. However, a future supreme leader or supreme leadership council may be more amenable to reinterpreting the role of the Guardian Council to be less restrictive or reforming the election process altogether. Until then Iranian citizens are likely to continue encountering difficulties exercising their political rights.
¹This article is primarily based on Iran’s Islamic Consultative Assembly Election Law
²Iran’s election law requires that implementation councils be made up of “trustworthy” individuals who are natives of or have had residence in their electoral districts for at least five years. Implementation council members should “have faith and demonstrate adherence to Islam and the constitution, be reputable, have literacy to read and write, not have been an official of the previous regime, and not be linked to illegal groups.” Implementation council members also cannot have familial ties through blood or marriage to the aspirants they oversee.
³A governorate must submit two new nominees for every implementation council nominee their local supervision council rejects, after which the supervision council has 24 hours to respond. Afterward, the supervision council assumes responsibility for filling each remaining implementation council spot within 24 hours in coordination with their governorate.