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Iran election 2017

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Iran presidential candidates: the Guardian Council is watching you

Abbas Ali Cadkhodai, spokesperson of the Guardian Council, during a press conference in the Tehran Grand Hotel on May 17, 2017 Jan van der Made

With all eyes on Iran’s elections, RFI looks at one of the core elements of the country’s political-religious system. In an exclusive interview, we talked to Abbas Ali Cadkhodai, spokesperson of the Guardian Council who sat down with us after a rare press conference.

The Guardian Council of the Constitution [GC], or Shora-ye Negahban-e Qanun-e Assassi is a crucial body which, according to the official "General Presentation", a colorful leaflet handed out during the press conference, "monitors the elections of the presidency."

It also acts as the "oversight on the eligibility of the elections" which in practice means deciding which candidate is allowed to run as well as scrutinizing ballot papers.

The GC, together with Iran’s supreme leader the Grand Ayatolla Ali Khamenei, forms the core of a system know as "vilayat–e Faqih", or "Guardianship by the Islamic Jurist".

Iran is the first country in history to apply this to government. The system was introduced in 1980 by the Ayatollah Khomeini, thus consolidating his control.

The GC consists of 12 people, 6 of whom are appointed by the Supreme Leader, the other six selected by the legislature.

The system is completed by an Assembly of Experts, a 230 member advisory body whose members are directly elected by the public.

This system operates independently from the regular government that is responsible to parliament.

In a non-transparent process, its twelve GC members vote on each presidential candidate, and in the end selected 6 out of more than 1600, including more than 100 women. To be successful, a candidate needs 7 out of 12 votes, a 6-6 stand-off means disqualification.

According to Cadkhodai, a "massive debate" had taken place within the GC about the eligibility of women candidates, but "it is a complicated process," and no one has managed to get through the vetting.

He expressed hope that a group consisting of female candidates would be formed to study the constitution’s article 115 that defines criteria for who can take part in Iran’s presidential elections (and virtually excludes the participation of women).

During the ongoing election period (which apart from the presidential elections also includes local council elections), the GC says it monitors behavior surrounding the campaigns.

Cadkhodai said the GC had received 200 reports of "misbehavior" of candidates who misused public funds for campaign purposes, and officials who got involved in the process but face a conflict of interests.

Cadkhokai rejected reports that people in remote areas were threatened with the taking away their pensions if they would vote for pro-government candidates in local elections.

RFI: One of the criticisms of [conservative candidate Ebrahim] Raisi is that he doesn’t have a background in economy while the country has large economic problems and is in need of someone who is experienced in dealing with economic problems. Why is his background as an Attorney, his legal background, enough to be approved?

Cadkhodai: A person can be a manager or have experience in many fields. We consider other conditions. For example, do they have enough experience to run the country or do they have strong management skills?

RFI:Why isn’t there more transparency as to, for example, how many votes which candidate got and why?

Cadkhodai: Because of personal issues and personal information, we cannot publish this, it is […] information based on candidate’s character and personality. We only publish their experience and their backgrounds in this matter. We are not allowed to publish negative experiences or background of the candidates. We are neutral and impartial and doing so would be unconstitutional.

RFI: But if a person is elected and becomes president, is the public then not entitled to know everything about him, after all he is going to make major decisions that may influence the life of every individual?

Cadkhodai: Like other countries, including France, we have other bodies that can observe the elections. Perhaps we introduce and approve a candidate who is not a favorite with the people. But finally it is the people who elect their favorite candidate.

RFI:Yet the final decision to decide who can run is with the Guardian Council. Would the GC be open to public scrutiny.would it be open to having its members directly elected?

Cadkhodai:All the elections of different candidates in different organizations are different in every country. We have different elections for presidential elections, or city councils, or even the Islamic Consultative Assembly, some of them are direct, others indirect.