Iran election watchdog defends decision to bar candidates

©Agence France-Presse

Commentators expect disillusionment among voters in sanctions-hit Iran to result in a low turnout in Friday's parliamentary election despite government appeals for a show of unity

Tehran (AFP) - Iran's electoral watchdog on Wednesday defended its decision to disqualify thousands of candidates for a parliamentary election in two days, saying it was done in accordance with the law.

The Guardian Council, a powerful body that vets candidates for Iranian elections, also said it expected at least 50 percent of registered voters to turn out at Friday's election.

Thousands of candidates, most of them moderates and reformists, have been barred from entering the race by the Council, which is dominated by ultra-conservatives.

But its spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaee said the body was "neutral" in its dealings with all political camps.

"The Guardian Council follows the laws and regulations parliament has passed at different times," Kadkhodaee told a televised news conference.

"This time, just like at previous (elections), we have tried to properly follow the law," he said.

"The Council has never had a political view... It approaches political factions with closed eyes.

"What it does judge is the evidence in the cases of the candidates and then it only acts in accordance with the law passed by parliament."

Commentators expect disillusionment among voters in the sanctions-hit country to result in a low turnout.

Tehran residents interviewed by AFP in the lead-up to the vote have expressed dissatisfaction with politicians they say have failed to keep their word or to raise living standards.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called for a strong turnout at Friday's election, saying it is a "religious duty".

The Guardian Council expects a turnout of at least 50 percent.

"Our forecast is that we will have a good turnout in the upcoming election, and the average turnout has usually not been under 50 percent, and we will witness a turnout of 50 percent turnout in this election too," its spokesman Kadkhodaee said.

President Hassan Rouhani, re-elected in 2017, promised more individual and social freedoms and gave assurances Iranians would be able to benefit from the benefits of engagement with the West.

But many people feel their lives have been crippled by an economic slump exacerbated by harsh US sanctions since President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of a landmark nuclear deal with Iran in 2018.