Are you qualified to run for president in Iran?

It's open season in Tehran: For five days beginning on May 7, presidential hopefuls are registering to run for president in the country's June 14 presidential election. And the number of entrants into the rough-and-tumble world of Iranian politics is staggering, with more than 200 candidates signed up as of Thursday. 

So the race must be wide, wide open, right? Not exactly. While nobody's quite sure who the frontrunners are yet, they will most likely be largely loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as the Associated Press points out.

That's because the country's 12-member Guardian Council will vet the vast array of candidates between May 12 and May 17, applying a rigorous set of standards to narrow the field way down. In 2009, for instance, only four of 475 names made it through the lightning round. So what, exactly, does the Guardian Council look for in whittling down the candidates? Presidential hopefuls can be disqualified for failing to meet a host of criteria enumerated in Article 115 of the Iranian Constitution.

Like its U.S. counterpart, the Iranian Constitution stipulates that a viable candidate must have Iranian citizenship. Not only does the presidential hopeful need to be a citizen (I found no mention of an age limit), but he also must be of "Iranian origin." Candidates who aren't Shiite Muslims or "religious and political personalities" need not apply.

Some of the constitution's conditions read more like a help-wanted ad. A viable candidate, for instance, must have "administrative capacity and resourcefulness" and no criminal record (incidentally, the latter is not a prerequisite to hold the highest office in the United States). The candidate must demonstrate "trustworthiness and piety" and must have a firm "belief in the fundamental principles of the Islamic Republic of Iran."

Those are high bars to clear -- particularly when compared with the low bars to registering. And that means we won't see much more of some of the more colorful aspirants who have already registered or have been floated as candidates . 

On Tuesday, for example, Razieh Omidvar became the first woman this year to throw her hat into the ring. While it is often reported that the constitution explicitly forbids women from running for president, the language is, in fact, a bit more ambiguous. In 2009, the spokesman for the Guardian Council said it "has never announced its opinion on whether a registrant is a man or a woman," suggesting that it is open to interpreting the constitution's language in favor of both male and female participation. Still, Omidvar shouldn't get her hopes up. The spokesman was quick to add, "[w]henever a woman has been disqualified, it has been because she's lacked general competence." 

Then there's Mostafa Kavakebian, a reformist politician who was disqualified by the Guardian Council in 2009 and also registered on Tuesday, even picking green as his campaign color in homage to the Green Movement that arose after the country's disputed presidential election four years ago. While his persistence is admirable, Kavakebian is just as unlikely as Omidvar to make the cut a second time around.

Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's current chief of staff, may be one of the more high-profile contenders. But conservatives in the country, who are locked in a power struggle with Ahmadinejad, predict he will also be knocked off the slate. Though he has yet to register, Ahmadinejad has been grooming Mashaei to take over in what the Guardian describes as a "Putin/Medvedev-style reshuffle."

Meanwhile, Ali Rahimi, a 59-year-old surgeon who graduated from the University of Kentucky, does not seem deterred by the many factors that could keep him out of the running. "I am extremely overqualified,'' he told the Washington Post after registering, "so I want to see what sort of reason they come up with for refusing my candidacy.'' 

If there's a sure bet in this election, it's that Iranian authorities will find one.



Iran unveils new drone, names it 'Epic'

Faithful readers of Iran's state-run news outlets might have noticed a lot of hype this week about President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's plans to unveil a new Iranian-made surveillance and combat drone -- the country's "most advanced" yet -- called Epic (Hemaseh in Farsi).

Well, it's here. PressTV reports:

The drone was unveiled on Thursday during a ceremony attended by Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi.

"This drone has been built by defense industry experts and is simultaneously capable of surveillance, reconnaissance and missile and rocket attacks," Vahidi said on the sidelines of the ceremony.

"This aircraft with its stealth quality can avoid detection by the enemy," he added.

High altitude and long flight range are two other distinguishing features of the new Iranian UAV.

The news comes amid reports that an Israeli drone made its first fully automated takeoff this week -- and just weeks after Israel shot down a drone of unknown provenance and Iran showcased a new long-range drone on the country's Army Day (see photo above). A report by Iran's Fars News Agency earlier this week claimed that Iran, in fact, is designing and producing 40 different types of drones. As P.W. Singer wrote in a Foreign Policy article on the spread of smaller and smarter drones to other countries:

[W]hen we often talk about a supposed future of drone proliferation, we usually ignore the reality of the present. We already have a market that is global in both its customers, from Australia to Turkey, and in its manufacturers, from American firms like General Atomics and Lockheed to ASN Technology, one of the major makers in China, and ADE of India. 

The Obama administration should "be more willing to discuss international legal standards for use of drones," former State Department legal advisor Harold Koh declared in a speech at Oxford on Tuesday, "so that our actions do not inadvertently empower other nations and actors who would use drones inconsistent with the law."

Seems like the world is way ahead of the White House on this one.