January 9, 2016 / 11:51 AM / in 2 years

Iran's top leader calls for full participation in elections

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks in Tehran in this June 12, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Caren Firouz

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Saturday called on all Iranians, even those who oppose the Islamic Republic, to participate in next month’s elections to parliament and to the assembly that will choose his successor.

Iranians will go to the polls on Feb. 26 for the first time since last year’s historic nuclear deal with world powers, which was also major victory for President Hassan Rouhani, a centrist, over Iran’s hardliners.

Rouhani is hoping his supporters will take control of the 290-seat parliament and end years of dominance by conservative factions.

A supportive legislature could give Rouhani a stronger mandate to push through domestic reforms to increase social and political liberties -- an area where his efforts have so far been checked by the judiciary and security forces.

The poll for the Assembly of Experts, which will coincide with parliamentary elections for the first time, could also be pivotal as it will choose the next Supreme Leader if the 76-year-old Khamenei dies during its eight-year term.

“Everyone should participate in the elections; even those who do not accept the ruling system should participate for the sake of the country’s standing,” Khamenei was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA and other agencies.

The supreme leader, whose role is to oversee Iran’s multi polar political system, previously called for wide participation before the last presidential election in 2013, in which Rouhani trounced a fractious field of conservatives by unifying moderate voters and winning over reformists.

Nevertheless, four years earlier Khamenei presided over a crackdown on reformist demonstrators who had taken to the streets to protest what they described as the fraudulent re-election of hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

A record 12,000 candidates have nominated themselves for parliament but the Guardian Council, an unelected judicial body that vets candidates on technical and ideological grounds, is likely to disqualify several thousand of them before voters go to the polls.

Candidates for the Assembly of Experts include prominent centrists such as Rouhani; former presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami; and Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of the Islamic Republic’s founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

The younger Khomeini, 43, is seen as close to the reformist camp and is the first member of his family to test his popularity at the polls. Hardliners have campaigned against his candidacy, but Khamenei has given him a cautious blessing to proceed.

Reporting by Sam Wilkin; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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