Iran's president entered a row over thousands of disqualified election candidates Thursday, taking a barely veiled swipe at a powerful committee that chooses who can run for parliament.
Hassan Rouhani's intervention came days after it emerged that only one percent of reformists seeking to become lawmakers had been deemed eligible to contest the ballot on February 26.
Reformists have been largely sidelined since the disputed 2009 re-election of hardline conservative president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, when the movement alleged widespread ballot fraud.
In a sign of their discontent, few politicians from the reformist camp stood in Iran's last parliamentary election in 2012.
But the movement has regrouped since Rouhani, a moderate cleric, took office in 2013, raising hopes of a comeback.
The vast rejection of reformist candidates on Monday, however -- only 30 of 3,000 seeking a seat in parliament were reportedly approved -- led to claims next month's vote would not be credible.
Rouhani, speaking in Tehran to an audience of provincial governors, appeared to criticise the Guardian Council, the committee that so far has barred around 60 percent of candidates in total.
"It is called the House of the Nation, not the house of one faction," he said to loud applause, implying that not only conservatives should contest the election.
"We must create hope, enthusiasm, competition. If there is one faction and the other is not there, they don't need the February 26 elections, they go to the parliament," Rouhani added, laughing.
"No official without the vote of the people would be legitimate."
The vetting procedure has been contentious for months, as the poll is an opportunity for reformists and moderates to make gains against a dominant conservative camp in parliament.
Rouhani's remarks underscored tension in Iran about the elections following the country's recent nuclear deal with the United States and five other major world powers.
Rouhani, pledging to end the nuclear crisis, was elected in a landslide in a reaction to the rule of Ahmadinejad, under whom sanctions had bitten ever deeper, crippling Iran's economy.
The nuclear deal lifted those sanctions and Rouhani is now seeking to bring some domestic reforms, a prospect more likely if there are fewer hardline conservative MPs to block his legislation.
Those seeking to run in next month's vote can appeal. The Guardian Council will publish a final list of approved candidates on February 4.
"The executors and observers should pay attention that the framework of law is respected," Rouhani said, drawing a contrast between minority representation and the exclusion of larger groups.
"How many people, how many thousands follow the religion of Moses in this country?" he said, referring to the one seat allocated in Iran's parliament for Jews.
Seats are also allocated for Christians, Armenians and Zoroastrians.
"They are 10,000, 20,000," Rouhani said. "Yet there is a faction in this country with seven or 10 million," he added, again alluding to reformists and receiving wide applause.