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Over 248,000 seek to run in Iran local elections

Written by: Staff

TEHRAN, Oct 23 (Reuters) More than 248,000 people have registered to run in Iran's local council elections in December when reform-minded opponents of the government will be seeking to make gains after a string of electoral defeats.

The official IRNA news agency today reported on the number of hopefuls who had signed up by the Sunday deadline. The semi-official Fars News Agency said candidates would compete for 130,000 seats in city and village councils across the country.

The reform movement, which backs political and social change in the Islamic Republic, was trounced by conservatives in the 2003 local council elections.

Shortly after that vote, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was chosen by Tehran council as mayor of the capital and then went on to defeat reformist candidates in last year's presidential race, pledging a return to Islamic revolutionary values.

The council elections will be held at the same time as a vote to the Assembly of Experts, a powerful clerical body that supervises Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Reformists expect the conservative-controlled Guardian Council, which vets candidates for the Assembly of Experts, to block most of their candidates in that race, as it did in the last assembly election eight years ago.

Analysts say reformists stand a better chance of fielding candidates in local council elections, although officials say those seeking to run will still face some screening by other oversight bodies.

Deputy Interior Minister Mojtaba Samareh-Hashemi said a ministry body that oversees parties may not ''have enough time to investigate some parties, so it is natural that those parties will not be legal and they can not campaign for elections'', the semi-official Mehr News Agency reported.

He did not specify to which elections he referred.

Samareh-Hashemi, a close aide of Ahmadinejad, was appointed to the Interior Ministry post last month and is in charge of organising elections. Critics said the appointment tightened the grip on power of Ahmadinejad's supporters.

Turnout was low in the 2003 vote to the councils partly because of public disenchantment with the administration of reformist President Mohammad Khatami and a parliament that failed to deliver on promised change.

A low turnout generally favours conservatives, whose voters tend to be more disciplined, analysts say.

Conservatives, who even when Khatami was in office controlled most levers of power, blocked his reforming efforts.

Reuters AB DB2110

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