Critics argue that barring certain candidates from the Assembly of Experts elections, is an attempt to safeguard leadership plans in the event of Ali Khamenei’s death.
The Guardian Council, with powers to vet candidates, announced the results for the upcoming elections on March 1. The Assembly of Experts is the constitutionally designated body to select the future Supreme Leader, as it once did in 1989, when Ali Khamenei was chosen after the death of Ruhollah Khomeini.
The Guardian Council announced its results, disqualifying former President Hassan Rouhani, a member since 2000, and Ayatollah Ahmad Parvaei, a member since 2016. Parvaei expressed his intention to comply fully with the law and hopes the Council will reconsider its decision. Meanwhile, Rouhani demands the Council publicly state the reasons for his disqualification.
Lawmaker Javad Karimi-Ghodousi (Qoddusi) suggested in a tweet before the official announcement that Rouhani’s potential to influence the choice of the future leader was a key factor in his disqualification. This suggestion drew parallels with the historical meeting at Saqifah in Medina in 632 CE, where the appointment of Abu Bakr as the leader of the Muslim community was contentious.
Abu Bakr’s appointment as the leader of the Muslim community, despite the insistence of the Prophet’s relatives and some of his companions who believed the Prophet had appointed his cousin and son-in-law, Ali ibn Abi Talib, as his successor marked the beginning of the division with those in favor of the meeting’s decision being labeled Sunnis and supporters of Ali’s right to caliphate as Shia.
According to the reformist Ham-Mihan newspaper, Rouhani’s disqualification, rather than being solely based on legal reasons and candidates’ past history, revolves around the anticipated expediency of future events.
This is not the first time such a rationale has been employed by the Guardian Council, Ham-Mihan pointed out. In 2013, it barred the veteran politician Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani from running in the presidential elections, citing similar considerations.
The Guardian Council, originally empowered to interpret the Constitution, review legislation, and supervise elections, bestowed upon itself discretionary supervisory powers in 1991, giving it the final say on candidate eligibility. Over the past two decades, it has used these powers to eliminate various political factions, targeting reformists, moderates, and even some conservatives.
Some prominent former officials previously disqualified from running in elections include Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and conservative parliament speaker Ali Larijani, ostensibly due to concerns about their loyalty to Khamenei.
The Council, however, has always cited other reasons for disqualifying candidates or argued that it could not confirm the candidate’s qualifications due to lack of sufficient evidence. Religious jurisprudence (ijtihad), required for running in elections of the Assembly of Experts, for instance, has often been cited for disqualification of candidates in its elections.
The Guardian Council comprises twelve members, half of whom are clerics with expertise in Sharia laws appointed by the supreme leader. The remaining six members, who may be laymen or clerics versed in civil law, are appointees of the chief justice. They require parliamentary approval for their appointments but cannot vote on matters related to Sharia.
Disputes between the Council and Parliament over legislation are referred to the Expediency Council, whose members are also appointed by the supreme leader. The Guardian Council has a history of rejecting legislative reforms related to elections, women’s rights, and international human rights conventions.
This ongoing pattern of candidate disqualification has raised concerns about the transparency and fairness of Iran’s electoral process.