With 44 days to go until the Iranian presidential election, the country’s powerful Guardian Council has abruptly intervened in proceedings in an act contrary to the Constitution.

Without approving or notifying the Iranian parliament, the oversight body set new conditions on those who can stand as candidates. It communicated these apparent orders in a message to the Ministry of Interior, which manages the vote.

According to the Guardian Council’s “resolution”, from now on only people who are no less than 40 years old and no older than 75, who hold a master's degree or equivalent, and have four years of managerial experience in the Islamic Republic, can run for office.

This means that at the time of registration, any would-be candidate should be either a minister, a governor, a member of the military with the rank of major-general, or a mayor of one of the cities with a population of more than two million.

When registering, individuals must also undertake criminal background checks and must have a clean record, with no past convictions.

Naturally, meeting these conditions does not mean a prospective candidate will be allowed to run. But they must be met before progressing to vetting by the Guardian Council. In other words, from now on, the Guardian Council has determined it will only consider candidates from a very small pool of privileged 40- to 75-year-olds who have already served as governors, mayors and generals and have never fallen remotely foul of the regime.

In effect, this resolution signifies the expulsion of the vast majority of Iranian citizens from the political process. Based on these criteria, only those regime “insiders” with the most spotless of records have a chance at running.

A Symbolic Change of Procedure

The action of the Guardian Council is an explicit interference in the legislative process of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which, according to the Constitution, ought to fall within the exclusive domain of the Iranian parliament. At a stroke, and based on an arcane interpretation of the Constitution, the Guardian Council has given itself the power to legislate.

Because the Guardian Council is responsible for vetting presidential candidates, it has made it its prerogative to determine their characteristics upfront. By sending these criteria on to the Interior Ministry for implementation, it has drawn Hassan Rouhani’s administration into carrying out a technically illegal act in its last days of office.

Ever since the sixth parliament, the Iranian legislature has examined the issue of how presidential candidates should be qualified. Its more recent attempts to pass law on this have been variously blocked by the Guardian Council and the Expediency Council, often on the pretext – ironically enough – of non-compliance with the Constitution.

The Guardian Council’s recent intervention is technically punishable by law as a violation of the participation principles enshrined in the Constitution. Article 570 of the Islamic Penal Code states: "Any authority or official affiliated with government institutions and agencies who, contrary to the law, deprives the nation of personal liberties or deprives them of the rights provided for in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in addition to dismissal from service and government posts for one to five years, will be punishable by two months to three years in prison."

How the eleventh parliament, chaired as it is by Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and dominated by conservatives, will react to this remains to be seen. Hassan Rouhani, head of the executive branch and mandated to follow and protect the Constitution, also has yet to respond. The manner in which they react to this sudden break in protocol from the Guardian Council – or indeed their silence – will be a litmus test for the future of how Iran is governed after June 2021.

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