By Ehsan Mehrabi
February 08, 2020
Iran’s hardliner-dominated Guardian Council on February 2 announced the names of candidates “qualified” to run for the country’s February 21 parliamentary elections. It also disqualified many prominent candidates on suspicions of corruption.
The vetting process barred many government officials as well as civil and political activists including 90 current legislators from running for the Parliament (Majles).
Although disqualifying incumbent MPs is well-established precedent in Iran, but this time the Guardian Council and its spokesperson Abbas Ali Kadkhodai have highlighted financial corruption as the reason for disqualifying 90 current members of parliament.
Meanwhile reformist and conservative reporters have published documents on social media implicating some of the MPs in corruption. The reporters have asked why the Guardian Council and other institutions such as the hardliner Judiciary have ignored this level of illegal behavior for years.
Financial corruption has always been an issue among Majles deputies. Thanks to the systematic corruption in the Islamic Republic, the number of MPs implicated appear to have been rising over the years.
Lawmakers get involved in financial corruption both directly and indirectly. Some are involved in businesses using their elected office to make profit while others benefit from supporting other wheeler-dealers while they try to get through the maze of Iran’s massive red tape.
They hide behind the slogan of supporting economic activity and creating jobs in their constituencies. For instance, former national security and foreign policy committee chief of the Majles, Alaeddin Boroujerdi who was implicated in a 30 trillion rial corruption case has said that he was involved in the case while trying to support a vehicle manufacturing project.
In another form of financial corruption, the lawmakers place their relatives in major state-owned financial and economic firms and support them in grafting activities involving state officials. The officials, in turn, benefit from the MP’s support at the Majles.
Many aspects of this type of corruption were exposed during the impeachment of former Labor Minister Ali Rabiei, who named individuals introduced by MPs he had placed in various state-run companies.
Some of these activities are not officially criminalized. In these cases, the MPS, openly write letters in support of placing individuals in key posts at state agencies. Some of these letters are exposed during conflicts between state officials and MPs, but many others remain unnoticed.
The high cost of campaigning in Majles elections is another factor leading to financial corruption, particularly because the law does not require the candidates to be transparent about the funding and expenses of their campaigns. This comes while the administration and the Majles have never been serious in calling for transparency. Guardian Council members have said that money is the most determining element in some elections.
The Guardian Council, however, does not oppose this non-transparent structure because it can use financial allegations against candidates it wants to disqualify for political reasons.
For instance, several current MPs have been disqualified for political reasons, but the Guardian Council has highlighted economic issues to justify its political bias. Ali Motahari, Mahmoud Sadeqi, Gholamali Jafarzadeh Imanabadi and Gholamreza Heidari as well as Ms. Shahindokht Molaverdi are among these MPs.
Nevertheless, issues surrounding massive protests in November 2019 and conflicts between Iran and the United States have overshadowed the upcoming elections and matters such as disqualifications.
In the meantime, Iran’s conservatives, who call themselves Principlists, are certain about their victory in the elections. They have even named former Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf as the Speaker of the next Parliament. Qalibaf is known to be involved in many financial corruption cases, nevertheless, he has got through the Guardian Council’s net.
Corruption appears to be moving from a reformist-dominated Majles to a conservative-dominated one. The vicious cycle of corruption does not seem to stop.