Iran Opens Parliament Campaign

TEHRAN, Iran -- Campaigning kicked off Thursday for this month's Iranian parliament elections, a vote that could see gains for supporters of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after widespread disqualifications of reformist candidates.

Reformists have been hoping that widespread discontent over Ahmadinejad's failure to improve the economy and reduce unemployment and inflation could boost their showing. But many of their candidates were among some 1,700 hopefuls barred from running by the country's constitutional watchdog, dominated by hard-line clerics.

Other would-be candidates have dropped out of their own accord. Among them is Ali Eshraghi, a grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of Iran's Islamic republic. Eshraghi was initially among those excluded, allegedly for not being loyal enough to the principles of the 1979 Islamic revolution -- he was later reinstated, but then announced his withdrawal, without giving a reason.

The number of disqualifications is reminiscent of the 2004 elections, when the Guardian Council barred thousands of reformists from running.

The web site of Iran's Interior Ministry said that about 4,500 candidates were now in the running in the March 14 vote.

Despite the official start Thursday, the campaign has yet to heat up, likely due to a two-day religious mourning holiday ahead.