Candidates Register for Iran's Local Council Elections

Candidates began registering Monday for Iran's third-ever local council elections, a December vote expected to be a test of public approval for hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Any public dissatisfaction is likely to come from fellow hard-liners, unhappy with the economy and the way Ahmadinejad is running the government, and not from reformers. Some conservatives criticize the president as being strong on populist slogans but weak on achievement.

The Dec. 15 elections also are expected to revive the debate on the way Iran is run.

CountryWatch: Iran

All candidates for village and town councils will be vetted by the Guardian Council, a body of conservative clerics that disqualified numerous reformist candidates from the 2004 legislative elections, enabling hard-liners to win control of the parliament.

The Guardian Council's role in elections provoked strong vocal protests in 2004, including from then-President Mohammad Khatami. But the council is backed by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and shows no sign of allowing a more open field.

However, the council may well approve a substantial number of reformists for the local elections simply because it will not know the political color of many of the hundreds of thousands of candidates, who will be standing for the first time.

The Guardian Council is not expected to disqualify candidates who belong to hardline groups opposed to Ahmadinejad. Such groups have accused the president of preferring to make fiery, anti-Western speeches than to implement the poverty-alleviation policies he championed at his election in June 2005.

Abolqasem Nasrollahi, deputy governor for security and political affairs in the city of Kerman, said mass disqualification of candidates won't happen.

"We have tried not to impose restrictions for anybody in this election," the official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Nasrollahi as saying Monday.

Meanwhile, reformers said they were planning to form a grand coalition to fight hard-liners in the vote.

"Our candidates won't be named before the Guardian Council approves the final list of qualified hopefuls to run but we will offer a grand coalition with all reformist groups," IRNA quoted Morteza Haji, a reformist leader, as saying.

Reformers see the election as a test of their public support after losing control of the parliament in 2004 and presidency in 2005.

The elections will be only the third time that Iranians have elected local councils, a reform introduced by Khatami in 1999. The councils have four-year terms and the new ones will take office in early 2007.

In the local polls of 2003, a total of 225,000 candidates, including 6,000 women, ran for 185,000 seats on village and town councils.

Voters also will cast ballots for the Assembly of Experts, a body of 86 senior clerics that is charged with monitoring the supreme leader and choosing his successor.

However, a low turnout is expected in the Assembly poll as voters traditionally decline to take part because there is very little difference among the carefully selected candidates.