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President of Iran Hassan Rouhani
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani has taken aim at how the Islamic Republic handles elections. After the Guardian Council barred almost two-thirds of candidates from running, Rouhani called for "competition and participation."

With the parliamentary elections on the horizon, President Rouhani spoke to provincial governors about the electoral process. Rouhani criticized the way the Islamic Republic deals with elections in general, and the actions of Iran's Guardian Council of the Constitution specifically.

The council, which decides who can run for office, has so far barred almost 10,000 candidates, including 92 current members of parliament, who will not be able to run for re-election. Most of these are reformers and moderate conservatives.

This unprecedented number of disqualifications could push Iran away from being a democracy, Rouhani warned. "The greatest danger for democracy and national sovereignty is the day when elections become a formality. May God never bring this day."

With so many candidates disqualified, Rouhani's alliance of moderate conservatives and reformers is going to have a harder time holding onto their majority.

Despite the current state of the Iranian elections, the president asked all Iranians to still vote, even if they "may not have enough trust to go to the ballot box."

February's election comes at a difficult time for Iran. Tehran continues to suffer under tough sanctions over its nuclear program, which came back with a vengeance after the US withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018 and actively pushed other nations to stop doing business with Tehran. Recently, tensions with Washington escalated further after a US missile strike killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Iraq in January, which in turn led to Iran accidentally downing a Ukrainian passenger plane outside Tehran, after confusing it for an American cruise missile.