PHOTO: Former President Rafsanjani: “Who allowed you to judge?”

Iran’s former President Hashemi Rafsanjani has attacked the Guardian Council over its purge of thousands of candidates for February’s elections for Parliament and the Assembly of Experts.

The challenge by Rafsanjani, an ally of President Rouhani and the head of the Expediency Council, was even greater because it came in a ceremony launching the 10-day celebration of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. He asked the Council, “Where did you get your qualifications? Who allowed you to judge?”

The former President said it was essential that the Iranian people did not have to cast a “forced vote” on February 26.

The Council’s 12 members are chosen by the Supreme Leader and the judiciary. Since the early 1990s, it has defined Iran’s elections with the disqualification of candidates whom it deems inappropriate for the Islamic Republic. In 2013, it barred Rafsanjani, only for a “consolation” candidate, Hassan Rouhani, to win a surprise victory in June’s election.

Last month, the Council blocked 60% of the 12,000 applicants for the 290-seat Parliament, including 50 current MPs and 99% of 3,000 reformist candidates. Last week, it banned almost 80% of the 800 candidates for the 88-member Assembly, which chooses the Supreme Leader.

Among those barred from the Assembly elections was Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Hardliners and some conservative factions are concerned that a centrist bloc around Rouhani and Rafsanjani, possibly allying with reformists, could gain power in the elections. They have accused Rafsanjani and other politicians of involvement in a foreign-backed “sedition” to undermine the Islamic Republic.

Mohsen Rezaei, a leading conservative and 2013 Presidential candidate, warned against protests over the Council’s disqualifications: “All complaints about the electoral process must go through the legal channels…..The reason for the 88 sedition [the mass protests after the disputed 2009 Presidential election] was that people took their protests out to the street instead of the legal channels.”

Rouhani Supports Khomeini

President Rouhani made a subtler intervention in the dispute on Monday. He met the head of judiciary, Sadegh Larijani and Speaker of Ali Larijani to discuss howIran can best hold “passionate, healthy, and competitive elections”.

The two Larijanis are in very different positions over the ballot. Sadegh Larijani has supported the hardline campaign against the centrists and reformists, echoing the warnings of foreign-backed “sedition”. Ali Larijani has maintained his distance, refusing to join a concerted hardline-conservative bloc against other factions.

Perhaps in a message to Ali Larijani, the Guardian Council disqualified 12 members of a bloc linked to the Speaker as it purged the list for Parliamentary elections.

Meanwhile, supporters of Rouhani disseminated a photograph of the President with Hassan Khomeini:

The President initially challenged the Council and the Supreme Leader over the bans on Parliamentary candidates, criticizing a process leading to a “one-party state”, but he has been cautious in response to the disqualification of those seeking places in the Assembly of Experts.