TEHRAN An Iranian hardline watchdog body has banned a grandson of late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini from running for parliament next month, a newspaper reported on Wednesday.
The March 14 vote for parliament, now dominated by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's backers, will test the popularity of the hardline president who came to power vowing to share oil wealth more fairly but who has failed to curb inflation.
Hopefuls have to go through a vetting process by government committees and the conservative-controlled Guardian Council, which has stopped hundreds of reformist candidates in the past.
Among those barred from running is Ali Eshraghi, a 39-year-old civil engineer who is a grandson of Khomeini, founder of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.
Eshraghi told the Kargozaran newspaper the decision to bar him had not been explained. "My neighbors told me they were questioned about my private life, including ... whether I shaved, whether I pray or fast or smoke," he said.
Reformists were defeated in the 2004 parliamentary vote, when another grandchild of Khomeini, Zahra Eshraghi, was barred. That poll helped pave the way for Ahmadinejad's presidential win in the 2005 race. The next presidential election is in 2009.
Pro-reform politicians say many of their number, including 30 lawmakers and three ex-ministers, have been banned. The final list of approved candidates will be announced on March 5.
Moderate politicians opposed to Ahmadinejad say they are confident the election will deliver change to the 290-seat parliament, partly because of what they say is growing popular frustration with the president's economic policies.
A high-ranking cleric said he had been rejected from running for parliament but was allowed to stand as a candidate in the same day's by-election for the Assembly of Experts.
The Assembly is a powerful 86-seat body with the power to appoint, supervise and even dismiss the Islamic Republic's highest authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"It is surprising that some people without taking into consideration the consequences of their decisions, unwisely decide about the qualification of people," Ayatollah Mohsen Mousavi-Tabrizi told Iran's Students news agency (ISNA).
He said the mass disqualifications would harm the country's image and that he had complained to the Guardian Council: "Such behavior will create questions for our country on how it has been governed so far by faithless people."
The Guardian Council can reinstate hopefuls or bar others based on criteria such as loyalty to the Islamic system.
Eshraghi said he had Khamenei's blessing to run: "I informed the leader over my decision to run before the registration."
(Editing by Elizabeth Piper)