Iran starts first election campaign since the 2022 mass protests over Mahsa Amini's death in custody

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A woman walks past electoral posters of candidates for the March 1, parliamentary election, in downtown Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. Candidates for Iran's parliament began campaigning Thursday in the country's first election since the bloody crackdown on the 2022 nationwide protests that followed the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

TEHRAN – Candidates for Iran's parliament began campaigning Thursday in the country's first election since the 2022 crackdown on nationwide protests that followed the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody.

Iran's state television said 15,200 candidates will compete for a four-year term in the 290-seat chamber, which has been controlled by hard-liners for the past two decades. It's a record number and more than twice the candidates who ran in the 2020 election, when voter turnout was just over 42%, the lowest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

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Amini died in September 2022, after she was arrested by Iran’s morality police for allegedly violating the country’s strict headscarf law that forces women to cover their hair and entire bodies. The protests quickly escalated into calls to overthrow Iran’s clerical rulers. In the severe crackdown that followed, over 500 people were killed and nearly 20,000 were arrested, according to human rights activists in Iran.

On Wednesday, the Guardian Council election watchdog sent the names of the 15,200 qualified candidates to the interior ministry, which holds the election. Any candidate for elections in Iran must be approved by the Council, a 12-member clerical body, half of whom are directly appointed by the supreme leader.

The candidates include 1,713 women, which is more than double the 819 who ran in 2020. The election will be held March 1, and the new parliament will convene in late May.

Current parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf will run for election from his hometown, a constituency in the remote northeast, after winning a seat in the capital of Tehran four years ago.

Such a change in districts usually indicates shrinking popularity. In recent years, his fellow hard-line critics have occasionally accused him of ignoring the rights of other parliament members and disregarding reports of corruption while he was Tehran mayor.

The current hard-line parliament has restricted inspection by the U.N. nuclear watchdog of Iran’s nuclear facilities, imposed more censorship on the internet and pursued a bill to enforce harsher punishment on women who do not wear the obligatory Islamic veil.

In a separate election on March 1, 144 clerics will compete for the all-cleric 88-seat Assembly of Experts that functions as an advisory body to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters. Their assembly members' term is eight years.

Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi who is also an assembly member will seek reelection for the assembly seat in a remote constituency in South Khorasan province, competing against a low-profile cleric there.

Absent from the assembly election is relatively moderate former President Hassan Rouhani, who said in January that the election watchdog disqualified him from running for reelection for the assembly.

On Thursday, Iranian media said Rouhani sent a third letter to the council, seeking an elaboration on his disqualification. So far the council has not answered any of his letters. Under Rouhani, who served from 2013-2021 for two consecutive terms president, the landmark nucelar deal between Tehran and world powers was struck. The deal, which imposed restrictions on Iran's nuclear program in return for the lifting of economic sanctions, has since crumbled.

Also, 35 other members of the current assembly did not register for reelection, reportedly because of old age. None were controversial during their term of service.

Under Iran’s constitution, the assembly monitors the country’s supreme leader and chooses his successor. Khamenei, who will be 85 in April, has been supreme leader for 34 years.

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