Monday, June 17, 2013

Electoral fraud has denied Arab candidates a majority on the Ahwaz municipal council, Ahwaz News Agency can reveal in an exclusive report.

With most of the vote counted on Sunday morning, 17 Arab candidates – 12 of which belong to the “Al-Mowahada” list – were clear winners of the 21 seats up for election. In a highly unusual move and without explanation, the electoral authorities decided to postpone announcing the result until Monday. The mayor and provincial governor are alleged to have intervened to manipulate the results. The outcome is that just five Arabs have been elected in a clear attempt to politically marginalize the indigenous ethnic Arab population, which represents a majority in the provincial capital.

The following Arab candidates were declared winners of the Ahwaz poll: Sayed Mahdi Alboshokeh (20,550 votes), Kazem Sawari (19,452), Ashour Sawari Pour (16,731), Ebtesam Albaji (15,461) and Naji Sawari (14,627). Although they were clearly ahead in the results on Sunday, the following Arab candidates from the Al-Mowahada list were denied seats in the Ahwaz city council: Rahim Kaab Omayer, Ali Naseri, Saham Saki, Khaled Lowaimi, Abdullah Abiyawi, Sayed Karim Saeed, Touran Hamid and Mousrafa Ramazan Ahmadi.

Intelligence services harass popular female Arab candidate

Arab candidates were also subject to harassment. Sana Salemi, who stood for election to the Fallahiyeh (Shadegan) municipal council, was arrested and detained for hours by the Iranian intelligence services on 8 June for speeches she gave in Arabic.

She had participated in an Arabic poetry and cultural event in the town, which was attended by leading Arab poets and intellectuals. She was released following the intervention of respected figures from the community and after she had signed a declaration that she would desist from giving speeches in Arabic. She won a seat with the second highest number of votes in the election.

Mrs Salami was among a relatively large number of Arab women standing for election at a municipal level. Seventeen Arab women were elected to local councils in Arab-majority towns and cities in the region.

Conspiracy of electoral fraud

Regime supporters had openly voiced concern over the potential success of Arab candidates in the run up to the elections. Ahead of the election, Eng. Falsafi, the secretary of Khuzestan committee of the conservative Islamic Society of Engineers, published an article on the Shooshan news agency website stating that it was unacceptable for elections to promote ethnic identity, which indicated his objection to Arab candidates campaigning on an anti-discrimination platform. He said that one particular race must not dominate municipal authorities, although Arabs remain a majority in many towns in the province, and called for lists comprised of one ethnicity to be examined carefully.

Ahwazi activist Abu Mousa told ANA: “Falsafi’s demand as well as his suggestion that non-Persian ethnic lists are the result of potentially subversive activity contrasts with pledges by some presidential candidates, including president-elect Hassan Rouhani, that non-Persians should be appointed to managerial positions in non-Persian areas and that seats in cabinet should be reserved for members of non-Persian ethnic groups.

“The demands Falsafi made of Arab candidates are not made of ethnic Persian lists in areas where Persians are a majority. He questions the loyalty of Arab candidates, yet like all candidates they are subjected a vetting procedure to judge their loyalty to the regime before they are allowed to stand for election.

“The regime is confused. It knows the rising strength of the non-Persian ethnic movements inside and outside Iran and is adopting their political language, but at the same time wants to repress non-Persian voices, particularly Ahwazi Arabs, because it does not trust their loyalties.”

Doubts over Rezaee’s success

The results cast doubt on the authenticity of the presidential election vote in the province, which gave Mohsen Rezaee 46% of the vote, up from just 7% in the election four years ago, and put him ahead of Hassan Rouhani who won the poll nationally. Although the hardline “principalist” touched on issues such as ethnic discrimination, poverty and environmental destruction in his campaign, Rezaee is largely unpopular among ethnic Arabs.

Aside from electoral fraud, Rezaee’s high proportion of the vote could also be explained by an Arab boycott of the presidential election and the number of polling stations in Arab districts was halved, ensuring a lower turn-out for Arabs as well as long queues for the press cameras. Official figures suggest that the turn-out was higher for the municipal elections (over 80%) than the presidential election (officially 74%) as Arabs rallied in support of Arab candidates standing in local authorities.

Rezaee is an ethnic Lor from Masjed Soleiman and has been accused by Arabs of enabling Lors from outside the province to settle on land confiscated from indigenous Arabs. He was also involved in the Black Wednesday massacre during the 1979 Arab uprising in Mohammerah (Khorramshahr).

Source: Ahwaz New Agency.