For Iran's June 14 presidential election, the Guardian Council has whittled the list of nearly 700 would-be candidates down to eight, most of them hard-liners loyal to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The rest pose no threat to him.
Conspicuously missing from the list were two candidates with independent followings and one, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and one of the founding fathers of the 1979 revolution that deposed the shah.
Rafsanjani spoke out on behalf of the Green Movement: the demonstrators, mostly students, who violently protested Iran's blatantly fixed 2009 presidential election, badly shaking the government in the process.
Council members hinted that Rafsanjani, 78, was too old for the rigors of the presidency. (The all-powerful Khamenei is 73.) The real reason would appear to be that Rafsanjani is too moderate, too pragmatic, insufficiently committed to theocratic dictatorship and, most importantly, had a decent shot at winning.
Also banned from the ballot was Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, the top aide to the incumbent -- but term-limited -- President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The president has fallen out of favor with Khamenei's inner circle, which has come around to sharing the rest of the world's view that the man is a loose cannon.
Ahmadinedjad has vowed to vigorously protest Mashaei's exclusion. If he pursues that in his usual noisy fashion, he may find himself in prison after a new president takes over Aug. 3.
If there is a front-runner, it would be Iran's lead nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, whose intransigence is responsible for the international sanctions that have sorely crippled Iran's economy.
Iran's economy is moribund, with soaring inflation, a thriving black market and a ruinously high unemployment rate -- officially 15 percent, but almost certainly much higher -- a recipe for volatility in a country where over half the population is under 35 with few prospects.
The candidates boast about their plans for economic revival, but little will change unless Iran is willing to dismantle its nuclear program under internationally verifiable circumstances. So far, Khamenei has shown no interest in re-engaging with the international community -- which means it really doesn't much matter who the next president is.
Dale McFeatters is a nationally syndicated columnist.