ANKARA (Reuters) - Several Iranian clerics and politicians have strongly criticized the mass disqualification of moderate aspirants to run in parliamentary elections in February, the opposition website Kaleme said on Thursday.
Preventing pro-reform hopefuls from entering the race by Iran's hardline watchdog body, the Guardian Council, is expected to deepen political infighting between hardliners and President Hassan Rouhani's allies in Iran.
Moderate politicians believe the mass rejections via a vetting process are aimed at helping hardline candidates keep control of the 290-seat parliament, which could hinder political and social reforms promised by Rouhani during his 2013 election campaign.
The lifting of international sanctions on Iran on Saturday has bolstered the popularity of Rouhani.
The council, an unelected body of 12 Islamic jurists and hardline clerics, can veto election candidates for reasons such as lack of commitment to Islam and the constitution.
"Disqualification of those who believe in the Islamic Republic, Islam and the pillars of our system ... will create a deep rift between real believers of our system and the establishment," Kaleme quoted Ayatollah Kazem Nourmofidi as saying.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday that "those who don't have faith in the clerical establishment, should not be allowed to perform a duty".
Some 12,000 hopefuls registered to run in the parliamentary elections, but more than 7,000 were disqualified by the Council, which is now reviewing complaints from them. Some of those disqualified were hardliners.
"This is the biggest number of disqualifications in the history of the Islamic republic," the semi-official ILNA news agency quoted moderate politician Hossein Marashi as saying.
Nine pro-reform political parties issued a statement on Wednesday, saying the Council had qualified only 30 of the 3,000 registered moderate hopefuls, urging top leaders for a thorough revision of the disqualifications.
Head of the Council Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said "pressure will have no effect", hinting that the revision will be limited.
"You have acknowledged the right of only 30 percent of our voters, ignoring rights of others," said Grand Ayatollah Ali Mohammad Dastgheyb in a letter to the Guardian Council, published by the Kaleme.
"Don't you think it will create a huge rift between the people and the leadership?"
The council banned 2,000 reformist candidates from running for the 2004 parliamentary election, when conservatives won a landslide.
Writing by Parisa Hafezi; editing by Andrew Roche