TEHRAN (Reuters) - Some 7,200 people have registered to run in Iran’s March parliamentary elections, when reform-minded opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hope to benefit from growing disenchantment with the hardline leader.
The March 14 vote could prove a tough test for reformists seeking a political revival after they were beaten by conservatives in a 2004 parliamentary election for failing to meet their promise to create a freer country.
They also expect the conservative-controlled Guardian Council, which vets candidates for all elections, to block most of their candidates as it has done in the past.
But the conservatives are struggling to show a united front despite controlling the armed forces, judiciary, powerful watchdog bodies, parliament and presidency.
The conservatives have so far failed to propose a joint lists of candidates, and the absence of a unified voice could cost them the election, following defeats in city and local council elections last year.
Analysts say reformists stand a better chance than in previous elections because many Iranians criticize Ahmadinejad for failing to deliver on promised economic change, including sharing out Iran’s oil wealth more broadly.
Interior Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi said on Saturday that 7,200 people -- including 590 women -- had registered to run by Friday’s deadline. Candidates will compete for 290 seats in parliament.
He told a news conference that over 43.2 million people were eligible to vote in Iran, where the population is over 70 million.
“Those Iranians who are eligible (to vote) and live abroad will be added to this figure,” Pourmohammadi said.
The result of the election will have no direct impact on who is president, or on policies such as Iran’s nuclear program, which is ultimately determined by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But political analysts say it may influence the debate, and could give Ahmadinejad more political challenges.
Among the last candidates who signed up on Friday was Ali Larijani, a close adviser to Khamenei. A group of moderate-conservative parties had nominated him as their candidate for the vote.
Larijani, a rival of Ahmadinejad, stepped down as chief nuclear negotiator in October, exposing a rift with Ahmadinejad about tactics in handling nuclear talks with the West.
Iran is at odds with the United States and its European allies over its nuclear program, which the West fears is a cover to build nuclear arms. Iran denies the charge.
Former Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahian, accused by a Swiss judge of ordering the killing of a member of an Iranian opposition group in 1990 in Switzerland, has also signed up.
A German court in 1996 issued an arrest warrant for Fallahian in connection with the so-called Mykonos affair in which the mid-ranking cleric was accused of having played a role in the killing of four Kurdish dissidents in Berlin in 1992.
Iran denies any involvement in the killings.
The final list of approved candidates will be announced on March 5. Candidates will then have one week to campaign.
Writing by Parisa Hafezi and Zahra Hosseinian; Editing by Caroline Drees
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