Iran Election Guide

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The Latest from Iran (7 February): Campaign Season

See also Iran Feature: A Middle Class on Edge
Iran Film Special: The Simpsons Are Gone, But You Can Still See Shrek in Tehran
The Latest from Iran (6 February): "The Regime Will Demolish Ahmadinejad"

1917 GMT: Oil Watch (China Front). Evidence that China is joining the squeeze on Iran over Tehran's oil exports...

Beijing, Iran's biggest customer, has said publicly that it will not join US-led sanctions; however, in January and February, it has halved its crude from Tehran. Now industry sources say China is increasing its supplies from Saudi Arabia, which has raised production since December.

Beijing is also importing more cargoes from West Africa, Russia, and Australia to replace reduced supplies from Iran.

China takes around 20% of Iran's total exports. Since January, it has cut purchases by around 285,000 barrels per day (bpd), just over half of the total daily amount it imported in 2011. At the same time, Beijing has purchased an additional 200,000 bpd from Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabian output reached 9.76 million barrels per day (bpd) in December, up 360,000 bpd from October, and remained near that level in January.

1844 GMT: Elections Watch. Prominent MP Gholam Reza Mesbahi Moghaddam has criticised the Unity Front's exclusion of three leading legislators --- Ali Motahari, Ali Abbaspour, and Hamidreza Katouzian --- from their list of candidates (see 0630 and 0835 GMT), calling on the Front's leaders to explain the omission.

1838 GMT: Budget Watch. Mehr claims that the Government budget for 2012/2013 will have a deficit of more than 30 trillion Toman (about $16 billion.

The website also claims that support payments of 70 trillion Toman (about $38 billion) for Government companies, covering the costs of subsidy cuts, have been added secretly.

1818 GMT: Currency Watch. Mesghal reports that the unofficial exchange rate for the Iranian Rial vs. the US dollar is now 18650:1, a drop in almost 3% in the Iranian currency's value today.

1809 GMT: Challenging the Regime. Former Revolutionary Guards commander Hossein Alaei, who caused a stir last month when he implicitly warned the Supreme Leader about the consequences of repression, has put out another sharp statement.

In an interview with Jomhoori Eslami, Alaei said that the flaws of the Revolution are the reconstruction of tyranny, the elimination of critics, and corruption.

Alaei added, "We want our own government, ruling ourselves through free, competitive elections in which votes get counted, choosing those whom people want and not others."

1646 GMT: Oil Watch. Fars claims that 150 of 290 MPs have signed the plan to halt oil exports to the European Union, cut the imports of EU goods, and impose travel restrictions on Europeans and Iranians.

1639 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. More on the planned Parliamentary interrogation of the President (see 1155 GMT)....

The ten questions include the Government's refusal to allocate the $2 billion to the Tehran Metro authorised by Parliamentary, Ahmadinejad's 11-day boycott of his duties last spring after he failed to take control of the Ministry of Intelligence, unpaid support funds to the production sector to cover subsidy cuts, and the alleged promotion of an "Iranian" rather than an "Islamic" school of thought.

1635 GMT: Economy Watch. Ahmad Mahdavi Abhari, a member of a Parliamentary committee supervising the economy, has countered the claims of Minister of Economy Shamseddin Hosseini, saying it is not the Central Bank but the Government and the Ministry who are responsible for the current crisis. Mahdavi Abhari said the government should have reacted to sanctions, dealing with issues such as the consequences of subsidy cuts.

1215 GMT: At the Movies. The regime has launched its replacement for the House of Cinema, the umbrella body for directors, actors, and others in the film profession, banned by the Minister of Culture at the end of last year. Javad Shamaqdari has been appointed as head of a new "National Cinema Organisation".

1210 GMT: MP Parviz Sorouri has repeated the threat, put out two weeks ago, that Parliament will soon consider a bill to stop Iran's oil exports to the European Union, as well as blocking the import into Iran of EU goods.

The cut-off of oil to Europe has been held up as a pre-emptive response to the EU's suspension of crude imports from Iran, to be implemented from 1 July.

1155 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. Parliament is trying once more to bring in President Ahmadinejad for interrogation.

Mohammad Reza Bahonar, the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, announced today that Ahmadinejad will have to answer questions on the economy, including a claim that the he has refused to allocate $2 billion --- authorised by the Majlis --- for the Tehran Metro.

The Parliament also summoned Ahmadinejad last month; however, he escaped the session with the excuse that he was touring Latin America and would send representatives.

Today's announcement is a bit of an escalation --- January's appearance would have been before the National Security Committee, whereas this will be before the full legislature.

At the same time, the interrogation has been overtaken by the immediate battle over the elections amongst Iran's rapidly-diverging conservative and principlist factions. Reports earlier this week indicated Ahmadinejad would appear before Parliament on 4 March, two days after the ballot.

A triumph for pro-Ahmadinejad candidates would put the President in a stronger position in any appearance, while a defeat for them would put him in a more difficult position before Parliamentary critics.

0945 GMT: Protest Watch. Fars reports that Iranian police officers are demonstrating now outside the Parliament, angered by a state organisation that has claimed some of their land.

0935 GMT: Economy Watch. Iranian buyers have defaulted on payment for about 200,000 tonnes of rice from India, which supplies about 70% of Iran's annual requirement.

The defaults, totaling about $144 million, were for shipments under term deals in October and November free-on-board Indian ports, Indian traders said. Most Indian rice exporters allow 90 days credit.

"It is a serious issue and we do not rule out further payment defaults by Iran," said Vijay Setia, president of the All India Rice Exporters' Association. "We have requested the government to step in."

Setia said India should not send any more rice to Iran on credit, adding suppliers such as those in Thailand, Vietnam and Pakistan had already stopped doing so.

Indian and Iranian officials have been in protracted discussions over problems in New Delhi's payment --- about $12 billion per year --- for imports of Iranian oil. The difficulty has arisen over currency transactions amid US-led sanctions.

0920 GMT: Expert Watch. An example of the posturing and the substance in coverage of Iran today --- on Al Jazeera English, Israeli analyst Yaacov Katz and Tehran University lecturer Seyed Mohammad Marandi square off over, "Will Israel Attack Iran?".

It is a verbal pillow-fight empty of significance beyond the propaganda. Indeed, the most telling is what is not contemplated. Asked about the economic situation in Iran, Marandi prefers a declaration (18-minute mark) that covers up any information, "These sanctions will obviously cause difficulty in Iran, but they are not going to diminish Iran's power or the unity of the people in the country. Iranians recognise that the nuclear programme is an issue of sovereignty":

Far more useful is Robert Worth's observations from Tehran of "A Middle Class on Edge", posted in a separate feature.

0840 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Syrian Front). Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast has declared, "We are absolutely not interfering in the internal affairs of Syria, and we consider that the interference of other countries there to be a danger to the security and stability of Syria."

Mehmanparast also said eleven Iranians, recently abducted in Syria, have been released.

Mehmanparast did not give details of who had been freed. In the last two months, 35 Iranians have been seized in the country, including seven men whom Tehran claims are engineers, 22 pilgrims, and six other civilians.

Iranian officials have barred travel to Syria by train and asked individuals not to go to the country overland.

0835 GMT: Elections Watch. We began this morning by noting that conservative/principlist "unity" has given way to five lists of candidates. Now there is a sixth, according to Etedaal: supporters of Mohsen Rezaei, Secretary of the Expediency Council and 2009 Presidential election, have formed the "Resistance Front".

The Supreme Leader's representative and leader of the Unity Front, Ali Akbar Velayati, has implicitly damned MPs Ali Motahari, Hamidreza Katouzian, and Ali Abbaspour, omitted from the Front's list of candidates: "Those who remained silent about sedition have no place in the principlists' unity front."

Meanwhile, Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, another of Ayatollah Khamenei's inner circle, has put out the line that any "battle" between the Unity Front and the Islamic Constancy Front is just a show.

0820 GMT: Sanctions Watch. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast has responded to Washington's latest tightening of sanctions, "It is an antagonistic move...a psychological war which has no impact....There is nothing new, it has been going on for over 30 years. Sanctions will not have any impact on our nuclear course."

On Sunday night, President Obama issued an order freezing property and interests of the Iranian regime, including the Central Bank.

0815 GMT: The Battle Within. Mohammad Nabi Habibi, the leader of the conservative Motalefeh Party, has attacked Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi and the Islamic Constancy Front, "Some want to establish principlism without the clergy."

0800 GMT: The House Arrests. The families of Mir Hossein Mousavi, Zahra Rahnavard, and Mehdi and Fatemeh Karroubi --- all placed under strict house arrest almost a year ago --- have called on "fellow oppressed" to make their voices heard in "the quest for human rights, justice, and freedom around the world".

The families called for the liberation of political prisoners from the Government and the regime.

0719 GMT: Currency Watch. While one site of Mesghal is suspended, another is still providing gold prices and exchange rates. The open-market "guesstimate" --- vs. the Central Bank's imposed single rate of 12260 Iranian Rials to 1 US dollar --- is 18250:1.

0710 GMT: Cartoon of the Day. Eghbal Mahvari returns to reformist Mohammad Reza Khatami's defiant interview (see opening to Monday's Live Coverage), "We will take no orders," as he effectively called for a boycott on March's elections.

The Supreme Leader's response, "No obedience without punishment":

0700 GMT: Rafsanjani. Farhad Daneshjoo, the brother of the Minister of Science and Higher Education, has warned former President Hashemi Rafsanjani --- if Rafsanjani does not confirm Daneshjoo's appointment as head of the Islamic Azad University system, "the judiciary will take necessary steps".

Daneshjoo said a negotiation team will meet Rafsanjani today or Wednesday.

Daneshjoo's appointment is the latest battle in the struggle between the Ahmadinejad camp and Rafsanjani for control of Iran's largest group of private universities.

0630 GMT: News on Monday was dominated by maneouvring for March's Parliamentary elections. The hope of leading figures within the regime for a single conservative/principlist "Unity Front" has given way to at least five factions putting forth lists, and --- with prominent candidates being ostracised by the main Principlist bloc and the fight amongst the Unity Front, the Islamic Constancy Front, and possibly a die-hard pro-Ahmadinejad list --- there could well be more.


The pro-Ahmadinejad Raha News has claimed that the "Unity Front" is on the verge of collapse, with Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani and Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf retreating before other groups and the removal of MPs Ali Motahari, Ali Abbaspour, and Hamidreza Katouzian from the Front's list of candidates.

Digarban sees further tensions between Larijani, Qalibaf, and a faction that wants to install Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, a former Speaker of Parliament and a member of the Supreme Leader's inner circle, as the next Speaker. Raha News adds that Haddad Adel is behind the elimination of Motahari, Abbaspour, and Katouzian from the Unity Front's slate.

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