Rafsanjani disqualification from vote seen hindering Iranian women’s rights

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The disqualification of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani from Iran’s presidential race has disappointed some women’s rights activists who were looking to the moderate candidate to bring about change.

This demographic is now left with just eight candidates who have been approved to run by Iran’s Guardian Council. They are all men, and largely hail from a conservative political background.

Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, a clerical member of the Council, said the “law does not approve” of women in the presidency, the Mehr News Agency reported on May 16.

All of the 30 women who registered to run in the election were barred, Golaleh Sharafkandi, an Iranian women’s rights activist based in Sweden, told Al Arabiya English.

This negatively impacts the bid to ensure gender equality in Iran, she added.

The candidates who are running “do not have a clear plan or program when it comes to women’s issues or gender equality issues in Iran,” said Sharafkandi.

There are those who believe Rafsanjani, who was president from 1989 to 1997, could have brought about the change needed to further women’s rights in the country.

Leila Moradi, a sociology graduate and teacher in a girls’ high school in the city of Isfahan, told Al Arabiya English she is “seeking to change the structure of [Iranian] society, especially women’s rights. Reformers can pave the way to achieve this, although the disqualification of Rafsanjani has triggered less hope.”

Zanoobia Abdullah, an Iranian who left the country due to her dissatisfaction with the current government, added that she believes women will vote, regardless of the contenders.

“Most Iranian women will be voting because they agree with basics of the Iran[ian] government.”

“Women are scared of another revolution, so they will vote for their government,” she said to Al Arabiya English.

Presidential candidate Hassan Rowhani, who was successfully vetted by the Guardian Council, is seen by some as the most moderate choice for a new president.

“We have to participate in the election and vote for Hassan Rowhani,” said Moradi.

“The only remaining candidate is Rowhani,” added Mahshid Rahimi, a graduate student at Tehran University.

“He is more qualified compared to the other conservative candidates such as [secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Saeed] Jalili, [Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher] Ghalibaf, [former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar] Velayati, and [former leader of the Revolutionary Guards Mohsen] Rezaei,” added Rahimi.

Rowhani is seen as a reformist candidate, and was a close aide to Rafsanjani.

Rahimi encourages people to vote for Rowhani to “change the political structure of the country.”

Simply casting one’s vote, for any candidate, will ensure the election is not manipulated by any one political figure “to the detriment of the country and people,” she added, in an attempt to counter the inertia that many Iranians have expressed over the voting process.

This year’s candidacy is a “disappointment,” Camilla Entikhabi, an Iranian writer and news commentator, told Al Arabiya English.

“The disappointment is that Iran will be falling into the hands of the conservatives,” she added.

Entikhabi expressed her frustration at Rafsanjani’s expulsion from the race, as he “could have opened up the road for reformers and open-minded people.”

Sharfkandi added: “It seems that they have disqualified Rafsanjani because they thought there might be a tendency of trying to get into a dialogue or a better situation with the international community.”

The Iranian government has “serious electoral flaws,” Human Rights Watch said in a report published on Friday.

“Fair elections require a level playing field in which candidates can freely run and voters can make informed decisions,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW.

Entikhabi said she will not be casting her vote this year because the presidential playing field is not a fair representation of what the Iranian people, or herself, want.

”There is no cause for me to cast my vote in this election.”

Abdullah added that she too would not vote in the Iranian elections.

“If I wanted to vote I would return to Iran. But I will never, because I don’t accept the Iranian regime, people and life in Iran.” She added the the government, in her opinion, will “never change anything for women.”

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