Iran Election Guide

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The Latest from Iran (8 January): Mr Chavez, Can You Spare a Dime?

See also Iran Photo Special: Snapshots of Life and Living
The Latest from Iran (7 January): "We are in an Economic War"

2140 GMT: Elections All-Is-Well Alert. Press TV goes over the top in its cheerleading, "Iran Political Groups Debate Parliament Vote": "A number of reformist lawmakers said it's business as usual and everyone is taking part because there are assurances that like the previous rounds the next elections will be free, fair and transparent."

An excess from nerves? Possibly, because in the next paragraph the website undermines its confident assurance, "Principalist political organizations and politicians are also preparing themselves for the elections. They express concern over the consequences of absence of reform oriented forces."

2027 GMT: Executions Watch. An EA reader points us to Friday's statement by Catherine Ashton, the European Union's representative for foreign policy:

I am deeply concerned at the number of executions in Iran in 2011. This goes against the worldwide trend towards the abolition of the death penalty. The number of executions in Iran last year is reportedly the highest in recent history, making Iran the world’s leading user of the death penalty per inhabitant.

Thousands of individuals remain at risk of execution, including Ms Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani [sentenced to death for adultery] and Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani [sentenced to death for apostasy]. The EU reiterates its call on Iran not to execute them. Hundreds of individuals were executed in 2011 after grossly unfair trials, without the right of appeal and for offences which according to international standards should not result in capital punishment. The EU recalls that in countries still retaining the death penalty, this sentence may be used only for the most serious crimes. The EU holds a strong and principled position against the death penalty. It therefore calls on Iran, as it does on all states which insist on maintaining the death penalty, to halt pending executions and to introduce a moratorium.

2009 GMT: Espionage Watch. Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi has announced that the security services have arrested several people on charges of spying for the United States and seeking to undermine the March 2 parliamentary elections.

Moslehi gave no further details.

2000 GMT: Currency Watch. Labour activist Alireza Mahjoub has told Parliament that industrial units and factories are closing because of Iran's weak currency.

1728 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. A photograph of women's rights activist Alliyeh Eghdamdoost, released after three years in prison.

Eghdamdoost was arrested at a women’s rights demonstration in Tehran in June 2006. In July 2007, she was sentenced to a prison term of three years and four months and 20 lashes. On appeal, the prison term was reduced by four months, and the judge overturned the lashings. She was summoned in January 2009 to serve the sentence.

1628 GMT: Nuclear Diversion of the Day (cont.). First, CNN and Reuters play up a far-from-new announcement --- 16 months old, in fact --- that Iran's Bushehr nuclear plant will soon be on-line.

Now Reuters bigs up another far-from-new declaration by the head of Iran's nuclear energy programme, Fereydoun Abbasi, "Iran will in the “near future” start enriching uranium deep inside a mountain, a senior Iranian official said Sunday, a move likely to further antagonize Western powers that suspect Tehran is seeking nuclear weapons capability."

Carrying the report, The New York Times puts on a suitably breathless headline, "Iran Will Soon Move Uranium Work Underground, Official Says".

In fact, Abbasi was merely re-stating Iranian intentions to put some of its uranium enrichment in a second plant at Fordoo, which is inside a mountain near Qom. Reuters' third paragraph, less dramatically makes the admission, "Iran has said for months that it is preparing to move its highest-grade uranium refinement work to Fordoo."

1622 GMT: Elections Watch. Fars, reportedly linked to the Revolutionary Guards, takes aim at months of preparatory meetings by the "deviant current" around Presidential right-hand man Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai.

1612 GMT: Currency Watch. As the Parliament passed a bill punishing currency trade outside exchange offices and banks (see 1344 GMT), influential MP Gholam-Reza Mesbahi-Moghaddam blasted the Ahmadinejad administration, "The sharp fluctuation in the foreign exchange market prices stems from the Central Bank and the government's weak management since, unfortunately, the government has relinquished the foreign exchange market. We have to put the management of the Central Bank in the hands of a competent man."

The head of the Bank, Mahmoud Bahmani, failed to attend the special Parliamentary session.

1352 GMT: Picture of the Day. Clerics at a shooting range:

1344 GMT: Currency Watch. Khabar Online reports that the Iranian Rial has slipped further to 16700:1 vs. the US dollar, as Parliament passed a bill restricting the trade of currency. The Majlis imposed legal penalties on those who sell foreign currencies outside official exchange offices and banks.

The Rial has fallen almost 5% today.

1337 GMT: The House Arrests. Fatemeh Karroubi, under house arrest along with her husband Mehdi since mid-February, has been allowed to meet a group of pre-Revolution activists and political prisoners. She criticised the behaviour of security guards and plainclothes forces, comparing their actions to those of the Shah's secret police SAVAK.

1033 GMT: Currency Watch. Isfahan Metropolis News Agency report that the Iranian rial is trading on the street at 16500:1, a 4% fall in the currency's value since Saturday.

Mesghal also posts the rate at 16500:1.

1026 GMT: The Battle Within. Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani takes a shot at President Ahmadinejad, saying the Government cannot exclude 10 million people from support payments to cover higher prices from subsidy cuts.

Government officials indicated last week that the wealthiest Iranians may not received the payment, instituted when subsidy cuts were launched in December 2010.

1019 GMT: Elections Watch. Reformist MP Mohammad Reza Tabesh, who has announced he will defy a call to stay out of March's Parliamentary elections, has declared that only 11 of the 64 reformist members of Parliament will not stand. All others, he insisted, will run as independents but with a reformist agenda.

1015 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. Rah-e Sabz follows up on this week's meeting of the President's senior advisor Ali Akbar Javanfekr with bloggers, denying all accusations about the "deviant current" and Ahmadinejad's right-hand man Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai and denouncing former Ahmadinejad cronies for criticising the President now.

1005 GMT: Nuclear Diversion of the Day. CNN and Reuters, among other outlets, offer dramatic headlines, "Iran Says Nuclear Reactor is Weeks from Operating at Full Capacity".

The stories are based on a Saturday statement by Fereydoun Abbasi, the head of Iran's nuclear programme, that the Bushehr nuclear power plant will reach its full capacity of 1,000 megawatts by 1 February.

Neither story points out that Tehran has declared repeatedly that Bushehr would be operational "soon" since the plant was formally launched in September 2010.

0849 GMT: Cartoon of the Day. Nikahang Kowsar illustrates Iran's plans for a national Intranet, detached from the Worldwide Web:

0845 GMT: Currency Watch. The head of Iran's Central Bank, Mahmoud Bahmani, did not attend Parliament's meeting today on the currency situation, leading us to ask the question posed by Deputy Speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar: did someone at a high level order Bahmani to stay away?

0830 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Kurdish sociologist and journalist Ehsan Houshmand has been detained and transferred to an unknown location. Journalist Fatemeh Kheradmand, whose husband and fellow reporter Masoud Lavasani is already behind bars, has been transferred to Evin Prison.

Activist Mahmoud Dardkeshan has also been arrested.

0630 GMT: President Ahmadinejad will grab headlines today with his flight to Venezuela, the first stop in a four-country Latin American tour. Some US media who have noticed the development have already whipped up the scenario of a US-Iranian competition for the continent, with Tehran providing the threat to stability.

The reality beyond that scenario, which borrows liberally from the Cold War script of US-Soviet competition, is both less grand and more important. Venezuela, with its oil, provides an outlet during Iran's current economic difficulties. With the loud, colourful presence of President Hugo Chavez, one of the few leaders to embracely Tehran warmly in recent months, it provides an outlet from international isolation. And, getting to the personal and political, it provides an outlet for Ahmadinejad to show the Iranian people --- less than two months before Parliamentary elections --- how important he is.

Oh, yes, and the timing of the journey also lets the President out of his Tuesday summons for interrogation by Parliament's National Security Committee.

The pro-Ahmadinejad State news agency IRNA is already on the promotional job, highlighting the President's departing wave as he boarded the plane and noting that he is accompanied by four Ministers: Foreign Affairs, Industry; Mining and Trade Economic and Financial Affairs; and Energy, 

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