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Nuclear Deal Will Play A Role In Iran's Elections


Iran holds elections this week. Voters choose a Parliament and also choose the members of another body that in turn may one day choose a Iran's next Supreme Leader. So much is at stake, although Iran's ruling clerics do carefully manage elections in that country. NPR's Peter Kenyon is there to watch it all. He's observing the campaigning in Tehran. And, Peter, let's talk about these elections in turn. First the parliament - what's happening?

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, there's 290 seats up for grabs. And I've been talking to voters and meeting candidates. And one of the women candidates is a very interesting character. Her name is Rafat Bayat. She's a conservative. She's got a very strong pedigree politically. She's running, she says, because she's not happy with the way the government's been trying to revive the economy. And she just doesn't buy this argument that sanctions relief is coming, just be patient, it takes time. She says no - she can see who's benefiting, and it doesn't seem to be ordinary Iranians. Anyway, here's what she says in Persian.

RAFAT BAYAT: (Speaking Farsi).

KENYON: Now, what she's focusing on is this particular deal - pretty high-profile - where Iran bought more than 100 new airplanes. I said, well, Iranians need new, safer, modern planes, don't they? She said, yeah, OK, maybe 30 or 40 - but over 100? I mean, that's a huge boon to European plane companies - not much help to the Iranian people. And this is the kind of thing I've been hearing on the street as well - a lot of promises that sound great, but so far there's nothing tangible to hold on to. A bus driver told me, we're just hanging on by our fingernails, you know? It doesn't matter so much if they're conservative or moderates or reformers, we need people who can get things done.

INSKEEP: You are reminding us that at election time, anyway, there's a degree of openness in Iran. People can speak freely, and they absolutely do at that time. But it's very a short election period, isn't it?

KENYON: It's amazing. It's seven days. Talking to Rafat Bayat bore that out. She works extremely long days. We couldn't have our interview until after 10 p.m. It's not enough time, especially for an independent candidate like her. But it does also force them to be creative. I also met her 24-year-old son Mohammed. He's a bit of a tech wiz. He showed me this app that everybody has now. It's called Telegram. It's got some of the same features as Twitter, and housewives, clerics, college students - everybody seems to know about it. And all of these campaigns are using it to organize meetings, get their message out, anything. Especially when you only have a week to do it, technology is a help.

INSKEEP: I guess we should mention they're using that app for many reasons, one of them being that Twitter is banned - is blocked, I should say - in Iran.

KENYON: Quite right.

INSKEEP: Now let me just ask, Peter. You mentioned that this was a rather conservative candidate you were talking to. There are other people known as reformists who want to change the system far more rapidly than the ruling clerics might like. How are they doing in this campaign?

KENYON: They've got a difficult path to a small reward, I would say. There may only be a week of campaigning, but before that there were seven weeks of vetting. Analyst Ali Vaez of the Crisis Group pointed this out to me before I left Istanbul. You know, they knocked out most of the reform candidates, and what's left is maybe a chance of a big turnout on the reform side even though they don't have many people to vote for, just in hopes that they can keep the most extreme hardliners out of the parliament. So that's really what they're faced with.

INSKEEP: Now, what about this other body that's being chosen, the Assembly of Experts, which will in turn choose a Supreme Leader someday? What's happening there?

KENYON: Well, that's about 88 people - Islamic scholars and jurists. And that is an important role. I mean, Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, turned 77 this year. This could be the group that has to pick the next leader. President Rouhani's running. So is former president Rafsanjani. But by and large, this is a very conservative bunch. Even the grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini was rejected. He happens to be a reformer. And there were 16 women who applied, some of them quite conservative - not one was accepted.

INSKEEP: Peter, thanks very much.

KENYON: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Tehran, where an election campaign is underway. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.