TEHRAN (Reuters) - The Guardian Council, which vets election candidates in Iran, has approved 3,444 individuals out of more than 5,000 who applied to run in the March 2 parliamentary polls, ISNA news agency said on Tuesday.
Iranians will vote in nationwide elections on March 2 for the first time since the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in July 2009, which sparked eight months of popular protests and a crushing government response.
Loyalists of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is implacably hostile to the West and its drive to curb Tehran's nuclear activity, look set to triumph in the vote at the expense of Ahmadinejad in a contest among conservative hardliners.
Politicians say the Guardian Council, made up of six clerics and six jurists who vet candidates, barred many Ahmadinejad supporters, forcing him to pick younger political unknowns.
With marginalized reformists not involved, that should mean a parliamentary majority for Ahmadinejad's adversaries in the power struggle among clerical and political conservatives.
Khamenei's supporters are sharply critical of the Ahmadinejad government for its handling of the economy.
Prices of goods have spiraled in recent weeks because of the plummeting value of the Iranian currency, the rial, and the squeeze from international sanctions on Iran's financial institutions imposed over its nuclear program.
A spokesman for the Guardian Council, Abbas-Ali Kadkhodai, said 3,444 candidates had been approved out of 5,395. He added that the campaign would begin on Thursday after all qualifying candidates had been notified.
Candidates wanting to take part in elections in Iran initially have to register with the interior ministry and are subjected to a number of checks. If approved they face the scrutiny of the Guardian Council.
Leading reformists are shunning the vote, which they say will not be free or fair. Opposition leaders defeated in the 2009 presidential vote, Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, have been under house arrest for a year.
(Reporting By Parisa Hafezi; Writing by Marcus George; Editing by Mark Heinrich)