Minorities hope for equality in politics | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 28.05.2013
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Minorities hope for equality in politics

Iran's Guardian Council gave the go-ahead to eight presidential candidates after sifting through 700 applicants which included 30 women but no representatives of ethnic or religious minorities. Why?

Iran is a multi-ethnic country, a patchwork rug of ethnic and religious minorities. Apart from Persians, Azeris, Lurs, Bakhtiaris, Kurds, Arabs, Balochs and Turkmens all live in Iran. Most ethnic minorities are persecuted - they cannot practice their traditions and religion. However, their votes are important and that's why their rights often form one of the main themes of the electoral campaigns.

No presidential candidate is prepared to alienate Iran's ethnic minorities for this reason. "It's an unforgivable sin to see minorities in Iran as a threat," Tehran's conservative mayor, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, recently said in a speech to nomadic Bakhtiaris in central Iran. He is one of eight candidates the Guardian Council of the Constitution has allowed to run in the elections.

Young Sunni mullahs in Iran

Sunnis are not allowed to run for presidency and yet are an important force in Iran

The Ahwaz-based political expert Nawid Ghaemi agrees that minorities are an important factor in the upcoming elections. The three biggest groups - the Azeris, the Lurs and the Bakhtiaris - make up almost 50 percent of the electorate.

However, they are Shiite and can put forward their own candidate, as opposed to the Sunni Kurds, Balochs or Turkmens. Article 115 of Iran's constitution states that only those who follow the country's "official religion" can become president. According to official statistics, some 90 percent of the Iranian population is Shiite, just below 10 percent are Sunni and the rest is made up of non-Muslims.

'A mistake'

Abdul Hamid, a Sunni imam in Zahedan, has criticized the fact that the Iranian electoral authority and the Guardian Council won't allow a Sunni to run for president. "It is one of the biggest mistakes of our constitution that only a Shiite can be president. Iran belongs to everyone. There shouldn't be any difference between people and between Sunnis and Shiites," he told a crowd of Sunnis.

Hassan Amini, a Kurdish cleric from northern Iran, told DW he thought the law was undemocratic and humiliating. "In the past 34 years, not one Sunni has run for the presidency. Nonetheless, we will vote and vote for someone who recognizes and defends the rights of ethnic and religious minorities. We are voting for the candidates' politics."

Turkmens in Iran (Copyright: mehr agency )

There are about two million Turkmens in Iran

Abdul Sattar Doshoki, head of the Baluchistan Research Centre in London, told DW that only Ayatollah Ali Khamenei could make decisions on the rights of minorities in Iran. He said he hoped the political atmosphere in regions where minorities live would improve after the elections. "If the votes are not manipulated this time, ethnic and religious minorities could play a decisive role in the Iranian presidential elections."

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