Iran prayer leaders urge vote for anti-US candidates

An Iranian woman walks next to election posters in a street of Teheran, Iran on Feb 18, 2016.
An Iranian woman walks next to election posters in a street of Teheran, Iran on Feb 18, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

TEHRAN (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE) - Iranian clerics used their last Friday prayer sermons today (Feb 19) before key polls next week to urge the faithful to elect candidates loyal to the Islamic revolution and hostile to the United States.

They accused Western media of attempting to sway voters against the revolution's supporters in next Friday's twin elections to parliament and the Assembly of Experts, the body which elects and supervises Iran's supreme leader.

"Today, they name the pillars of the revolution and ask people not to vote for them, and then name others and call for their election," complained Tehran prayer leader Ayatollah Kazem Sedighi. "Revolutionary Muslims should do the opposite."

In Iran's second city Mashhad, prayer leader Mohammad Bagher Farzaneh urged the faithful to elect members of parliament who have "Death the America" written "on their foreheads", the ISNA news agency reported. In the southwestern city of Ahvaz, the prayer leader urged people to vote for "champions of the fight against the United States," the official IRNA news agency said.

The prayer leader in the central city of Isfahan hit back at Western criticism of the Guardian Council, the body which vets all candidates for public office in Iran and which sparked an outcry by disqualifying thousands of hopefuls, most of them reformists.

The United States had been "opposed to the rule of Guardian Council since day one," he said. Some 1,500 candidates were reinstated after the intervention of President Hassan Rouhani and members of his government but many reformists have remained barred. A pro-Rouhani coalition of reformists and moderates is seeking to end conservatives' long dominance of parliament by playing up the economic potential of the nuclear agreement he struck with world powers last year. But the limited opening to the West that made the deal possible remains controversial in Iran and supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei has repeatedly stated there will be no wider rapprochement.

The election to the Assembly of Experts is seen by many as even more important. Should Khamenei, 76, die during the new assembly's eight-year term, it will have the job of electing his successor.