( AP ) - Some 7,200 people have registered as prospective candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections that are widely seen as a referendum on rule of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The elections will not change the direction of Iran's nuclear policies, which are increasingly in the international spotlight and determined by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but they will be a key test of Ahmadinejad's hold on power and a harbinger for the 2009 presidential elections.
Iran's Interior Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi said a total of 7,200 people, including 590 women, registered for the March 14 elections.
Newspapers reports said Saturday that many leading conservative and reformist political figures, including those who were barred from running four years ago, have applied to run.
The hardline Guardian Council, which barred thousands of reformists from running in 2004, will announce a final list of approved candidates on March 5, leaving only a week for campaigning.
Mass disqualification of reformist candidates allowed hardliners to regain control of the 290-seat parliament in a vote reformists denounced as a "historical fiasco."
Key members of the Guardian Council, a constitutional watchdog, are hand-picked by Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters. The supreme leader largely supported the council in the bitter dispute in 2004.
The Guardian Council's chief, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, a key Ahmadinejad ally, said last month that any candidate determined by the committee to be disloyal to the principles of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution would be barred from running.
The announcement provoked widespread condemnation from reformists, with former President Mohammad Khatami saying the council had no right deprive Iranians of the right to vote or run in elections.
Khatami has said he won't run in the March elections but has begun publicly supporting reformists who hope to wrest control of the legislature away from the hardliners.