Iran Election Guide

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The Latest from Iran (25 January): A Government Committing Economic Treason?

Cartoon: Nikahang Kowsar1755 GMT: Elections Watch. Guardian Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei says about 80% of the 5400 applicants to stand in March's Parliamentary elections have been approved.

1750 GMT: Oil Watch. French oil refiner Total has stopped buying oil from Iran in line with new European Union sanctions, according to Chief Executive Christophe de Margerie.

De Margerie said Total had been buying about 80,000 barrels a day of Iranian oil.

1740 GMT: The Government Moves --- But Will It Make a Difference? The currency website Mesghal is claiming that the Government's steps (see 1730 GMT) have made a difference to exchange rates and gold prices. Old gold coin has plummeted almost 20% in price to 820,000 Toman (about $400) while the Iranian Rial has supposedly recovered 20% of its value to stand at 19000:1 vs. the US dollar.

There are other claims, however, that the effect has not been so marked. Hamshahri reports that the open market was actually trading Rials for dollars at 21700:1, with vendors on the streets and foreign exchange offices displaying official rate but selling the dollar at a higher rate.

1730 GMT: Currency Watch --- The Government Moves. And now to the big story of the day....

The Ahmadinejad Government and Central Bank have finally reacted, after sustained criticism that they have been in "hibernation", to the currency crisis.

In addition to the announcement that interest rates would be raised to 21% (see 0920 GMT), the head of the Central Bank, Mahmoud Bahmani said there would be further restrictions on the sale of foreign currency, "The government will not give foreign currency for storage."

At the same time, Bahmani said, "We will provide foreign currency in any amount for people demanding it for various uses. Travelers, university students and patients will be supplied at an appropriate rate." He also assured that importers of vital goods would also be able to buy as much foreign currency as they need.

The move came after criticism in Parliament spread through the Iranian media --- Fars, linked to the Revolutionary Guards, has been notable in its hostility since it invoked the Government's "hibernation" last weekend --- and reached the level of the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, "Even during the war we did not witness such instability. Government officials and the president himself should definitely be held accountable to people and public opinion."

Vice President Mohammad Reza Mirtajedini, Ahmadinejad's representative in Parliament, assured, "The effects of the new decision will be clear in the market very soon and the bubbles being created for foreign currency and gold will be removed."

1720 GMT: Elections Watch. The reformist Mohajedin of Islamic Revolution has called for "negative combat" through refusal to participate in the elections, with the Green Movement using all means to inform the people of the action and the reasons for it.

1715 GMT: Clerical Intervention. Back from an extended academic break to find that Grand Ayatollah Sane'i has declared, "Comprehending the Prophet's character, we should introduce Islam by observing human rights."

1225 GMT: Economy Watch. Jahan-e San'at posts that there is a "tsunami" in the market of essential goods with imported foods rising 50% in cost since last month.

1220 GMT: Currency Watch. The currency website Mesghal has updated its exchange rates after a two-day suspension --- it claims that Monday's rate of 21000:1 between the Iranian Rial and the US dollar is holding.

1210 GMT: Health Watch. Officials says that hospitals are struggling to cope with rising costs after subsidy cuts and face a 760 billion Toman (about $365 million) budget deficit. The officials claim the hospitals are even struggling to feed patients with 30% inflation in food prices.

Mashregh News, a "hard-line", takes note of what it claims is a 35% rise in food prices, even as the Government boasts of "only" 20% inflation.

0920 GMT: Economy Watch. Finally, a sign of movement from the Ahmadinejad Government (see 0831 GMT) --- the Minister of Economy says, after weeks of delay, that the interest rate has been raised to 21%.

0913 GMT: Economy Watch. Is this an initial sign of shortages?

Abolhassan Khalili, the head of cooking fat producers, has said that the cooking fat will be given out in distribution centres, with imports supported by Central Bank funds. Asked why wholesalers wholesalers were not providing supplies, Khalili said that stable prices had to be maintained.

0904 GMT: The Battle Within. Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor of Kayhan has implicitly blamed President Ahmadinejad for the currency crisis: "The slump [of the Iranian currency] is a concerted action with European sanctions....Some are summoning famine to open door for talks with the US."

An EA correspondent evaluates, "This is the first sign that Ayatollah Khamenei wants to distance himself from the currency crisis, putting the blame on Ahmadinejad and the Central Bank."

Conservative cleric Hojatoleslam Mostafa Tabatabei has taken aim at rival conservatives in the Islamic Constancy Front, calling them "beyond sedition" with a "deviant current" that wants to split principlists in the Islamic Republic and defame Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani, the head of the Assembly of Experts and leader of the "Unity Front".

0900 GMT: Questioning the Supreme Leader. An interesting follow-up to an appearance on State TV on 15 January by former MP Emad Afrough, in which he declared that people have the right to question the Supreme Leader....

Afrough said that a planned demonstration was supposed to take place in front of his home, but "relevant forces" managed to stop it with "special precautions".

So who was trying to pressure Afrough with the protest and who are the "relevant forces" who protected him?

0855 GMT: Currency Watch. A report today from Quetta in Pakistan, near the Iranian border:

The Iranian currency toman tumbled down steeply following sanctions imposed by the European Union putting a ban on buying Iranian crude oil.

From the early morning, the Iranian currency was falling with full speed as its rate in the informal market was 1,900 Iranian toman per 100 Pakistani rupees. Within hours, it crossed 2,200 tumans.

The nervousness was felt in the border regions all along with Pakistan, including Taftan, Gwadar, Panjgur, Turbat and also in Zahedan, capital of the Iranian Balochistan. At the close of local market, the Iranian currency was at its lowest in modern Iranian history and it touched 2,500 tomans against 100 Pakistani rupees.

0849 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Cyrus Farivar of Deutsche Welle, with a guest appearance by EA, summarises the recent wave of arrests and punishment of journalists, bloggers, and website designers in Iran.

Farivar highlights the case of Parastou Dokouhaki, one of Iran's first women bloggers, who was seized on 15 January even though she has stopped work as a journalist and had not been politically active.

0843 GMT: Currency Watch. Iranian websites have not updated their currency exchange rates since Monday.

Mesghal still shows Monday's rate of 21000:1 for the Iranian Rial vs. the US dollar --- we are still working with the rate of 23000:1 reported by Tabnak and witnesses in Tehran.

Mesghal does update the price of old gold coin, claiming it has fallen below 1,000,000 Toman (10 millions rials) after its 30% surge over the last week. The current price is 980,000 Toman (about $430).

In a sign, however, that the cost of gold will continue to escalate, bonds for future purchases have more than tripled in price.

0831 GMT: Economy Watch. Jafar Qaderi, a member of Parliament's Budget Committee has said that currency fluctuations are "on purpose" and, "if the Government fails to act, the Majlis will do so".

Kazem Delkhosh of the Economic Committee adds that prosecution of foreign exchange traders is futile in the effort to stabilise rates, but the Central Bank must control the currency market.

The economic committee of the conservative Isargaran party --- President Ahmadinejad was one of its founding members --- has said that the sharp plunge of the national currency is "unbearable" and MPs shld react to the Government's procrastination, fulfilling its legal and national duty to prevent further economic decline.

While blaming the "psychological operations" of the enemy, Isargaran said media silence intensified the effects, with the slump in production putting domestic firms under heavy pressure and impoverishing employees.

The party called for control of the currency market, with increased interest rates and a halt of the injection of foreign currency into the Bazaar, and a temporary halt to some imports.

0828 GMT: All-Is-Well Alert. Mohammad Ali Asoudi of the Cultural and Public Relations Section of the Revolutionary Guards assures, "The US and Europe have recognized the strategic influence of the Islamic Awakening and the Islamic Republic....The Islamic Republic is ready to control the global economy."

0820 GMT: Sanctions Watch. Some details on the European Union's tightening of sanctions on Monday....

The EU suspended oil imports from Iran on 1 July, restricted Iran's exports of gold, and broke links with the Central Bank and Bank Tejarat, Iran's third-largest. It also named 11 more firms for an assets freeze, including five shipping companies, two of them based in the EU -- BIIS Maritime in Malta and Hanseatic Trade Trust & Shipping in Hamburg. Three more individuals were designated, included Ali Ashraf Nouri, a Revolutionary Guards deputy commander who heads the Guards' Political Bureau.

0620 GMT: Threat of the Day. Javad Karimi Qoddousi, a member of Parliament's National Security Council says, "If we close the Straits of Hormuz, Western warships will be treated as war booty."

0600 GMT: We begin this morning with a sign of the economic crisis and the politics around it. Ahmad Tavakoli --- conservative MP, director of the Majlis Research Center, the man behind the daily Alef, and cousin of Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani and head of judiciary Sadegh Larijani --- has said, "If the Government does not control the currency fluctuations, it is not a lack of ability but treason."

Tavakoli spared few in his attack. He explained that the Government should not profit from the sharp fall in the Iranian currency. At the same time, Parliament had failed in its duty to control the Government, and the judiciary was not prosecuting officials for financial misconduct.

The MP said he will meet Mohamamad Reza Bahonar, the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, today to discuss the impeachment of Government officials responsible for the economy.

Meanwhile, both Ministry of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi and Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel of the Supreme Leader's inner circle have implicitly admitted --- contrary to Ayatollah Khamenei's assurances --- that sanctions are contributing to the problems in the economy.

Moslehi said that the currency fall and rise in the price of gold are part of the enemy's "heavy psychological operations". Haddad Adel also blamed "global sedition", supported by "regional and local elements".

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