TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran started registering candidates on Saturday for parliamentary elections due to take place in February and set to be a crucial vote that will shape Iran's politics for years to come.
The registration process will last a week. All potential candidates must be approved by the Guardian Council, the country's constitutional watchdog, before they are allowed to run.
Voting for the 290-seat legislature will take place on Feb. 26, and will run alongside elections for the 88-seat Experts Assembly, a clerical body empowered to choose or dismiss Iran's supreme leader.
The parliamentary elections will be seen as a vote on President Hassan Rouhani's moderate policies. Conservatives currently dominate Iran's parliament, but Rouhani's allies received a popularity boost following the July 14 landmark nuclear deal that curbs Iran's nuclear activities in return for the lifting of sanctions.
The Feb. 26 election will be a contest between Rouhani supporters and opponents.
Sanctions are expected to be lifted in January, and Rouhani's supporters are hoping that economic improvements will increase their popular backing.
Their ambitions may, however, be checked by the hard-liners, who exert greater influence over the electoral process. In the past, the Guardian Council has disqualified many prominent reformists from running for election, arguing that they are not sufficiently loyal to the ruling system.
In the absence of well-established political parties, political factions and their splinter groups are vying for power. Reformists and moderates are working to form a coalition once their candidates survive the screening process.
In the 2013 presidential elections, the conservative vote was split between several candidates. The conservatives say they have learnt from this mistake and are seeking a grand coalition of hard-liners and conservatives.
Mohammad Reza Aref, a former reformist vice president, told reporters on Saturday that moderates will field more women and young candidates in a bid to appeal to Iranian youth, who make up around 60 percent of the population.
He said he hoped that women would win more parliamentary seats this year, adding that "a void is felt for the presence of female lawmakers." There are currently nine women in Iran's parliament.
Aref was a presidential candidate in 2013 but withdrew to support Rouhani. He said reformists will focus on the economy, a central pledge during Rouhani's presidential campaign.