Reuters: Schoolgirls, factory workers and wizened clerics flowed into Iran's Interior Ministry on Tuesday to register to stand for president in an election next month, annoying
officials who said they were time-wasters.
The Interior Ministry has flung open its doors for five days of registration for the June 17 poll. Reuters

By Parisa Hafezi

TEHRAN - Schoolgirls, factory workers and wizened clerics flowed into Iran's Interior Ministry on Tuesday to register to stand for president in an election next month, annoying officials who said they were time-wasters.

The Interior Ministry has flung open its doors for five days of registration for the June 17 poll.

First in was no hardened politician but Abolqassem Khaki, a tile factory guard from the central desert town of Meybod, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Hot on his heels came an old man in a dishevelled yellow turban clutching a giant scrapbook, a Reuters reporter said. Another candidate, Ebrahim Sarraf, was campaigning on a ticket to legalise brothels.

One hopeful sported an immaculate blue silk bow-tie -- remarkable in a country where ties are condemned as Western.

Interior Ministry officials shook their heads at the melee of no-hopers. State media said there had been 65 candidates by lunchtime.

Interior Ministry spokesman Jahanbakhsh Khanjani complained there was a loophole in the law.

"With all due respect to those who came today, they were aware they lacked the necessary qualifications," he said.

Many of the hopefuls admitted their attempts to net the presidency would probably be stopped by the Guardian Council, a hardline constitutional watchdog.

The council has strict moral and legislative criteria for permitting someone to stand, requiring candidates to be established statesmen. In 2001, the 12-man council allowed only 10 out of 814 hopefuls to stand.

But 18-year-old schoolgirl Azam Ghaderi, who travelled from the central city of Isfahan, saw her application as laying down a marker for the future.

"I know I will not be qualified by the council," she told Reuters television. "It is for the future so I know what to do when I really run for president."

The June 17 presidential poll is expected to return the presidency to conservatives after Mohammad Khatami's frustrated attempts to reform the oil-rich state.

Political heavyweight and former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is keeping voters guessing on whether he will stand again. Polls suggest the wily and business-minded moderate conservative will win if he stands.