PHOTO: The head of the Guardian Council, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati

Pushing away President Rouhani’s attempts to open up February elections to more candidates, key figures in Iran’s regime have reasserted that any applicant can be disqualified on political grounds.

Iranians go to the polls on February 26 to choose 290 MPs and 86 members of the Assembly of Experts, the body that names the Supreme Leader and can nominally remove him.

Rouhani has publicly called for the removal of the power of the Guardian Council, a 12-member body appointed by the Supreme Leader and judiciary, to disqualify candidates.

The head of judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, immediately rejected the call, and the Council’s head Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati warned in last Friday’s Tehran Prayer: “If you can wipe this pillar [the Guardian Council] from the Constitution, velayat-e faqih [the guardianship of the Supreme Leader] could also be eliminated with a referendum.”

Jannati indicated that many of the candidates will be banned:

Do all 800 people who registered for the Assembly of Experts consider themselves clergymen? Aren’t some of them incapable of clearly reading even one phrase in Arabic, the Quran, or a single book of religious jurisprudence?….It is the same for those who registered their candidacies for Parliament!

Spokesman Nejatollah Ebrahimian confirmed that the Council will disqualify any applicants involved in mass protests after the disputed 2009 Presidential election, as they must not have “partnered or cooperated in the illegal acts that occurred”.

Jannati and other Friday Prayer leaders used that “sedition” line, not only to reaffirm the Guardian Council’s power but to swipe at politicians such as former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is trying to regain the chair of the Assembly of Experts. Ayatollah Imani said in Shiraz:

The 2009 sedition is a red line for people who say that we believe in the Constitution and in the guardianship system….It is expected that this red line will be completely observed and maintained [in the elections], meaning that individuals should declare what their stances are in relation to sedition.

The Rouhani Government appeared to back away on Monday. Minister of Interior Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said, “We held a meeting with members of the Guardian Council and Jannati, and we reached an agreement on all of these concepts so that, God willing, we can pursue our path with greater coordination in a lawful manner.”

The President covered himself against the claims of “sedition”, using a conference speech on Tuesday to praise the regime’s counter-demonstrations of December 30, 2009 as “the day of the defense of the political system, law, the guardianship of the jurist, and the Supreme Leader”:

Iran’s security today is established under the Supreme Leader’s programs and good management. So to appreciate the blessing of the leadership, we have to stick to unity among Muslim nations and assist to secure Islamic countries from terrorism and interference of foreign powers in their internal affairs.

(Hat tip to Iran Tracker for translations)