Friday, May 24, 2013
Religious Minorities in the Iranian Majles
UPDATE: Looks like the news articles were wrong and there were not 14 seats given to religious minorities, but the normal 5. The original article claiming 14 religious minorities were elected was removed from one of the official Iranian sites. Looks like it was just a mistranslation which other news organizations latched on to and then did not bother to fix when the correct information came out. In either case it is interesting to see how they deal with minorities who according to this are persecuted against.
There are several countries in the world that assign certain positions of government to specific ethnicities or population groups, such as Lebanon, and Bosnia. Others like Iran, assign seats in parliament to religious minorities. In the case of Iran, the 290 seat Majles (Parliament) also contains 5 mandatory spots; 2 for Armenians, 1 for Assyrians/Chaldeans (Catholic), 1 for Jews, and 1 for Zoroastrians. This can be quite beneficial especially when there are issues with religious minorities being persecuted, so having a guaranteed spot for a minority like this can afford them some form of protection.
In 2012 the election was billed as a battle between various factions of the conservatives who were divided between those loyal to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nezhad. The Supreme Leader, with absolute authority as designated by the Iranian constitution (revised in 1989 after Ayatollah Khomeini's death), by all accounts won, and was able to take seats away from factions supportive of President Ahmadi-Nezhad.
This article claims that 14 and 5 religious minorities are a part of the Majles. While only 5 are required to be assigned to the 4 recognized religious minorities (Bahais, another significant group, are not recognized and highly persecuted in Iran).
According to the UN there are 300,000 Christians (which includes Armenians, Assyrians and Chaldeans), although the Statistical Center of Iran states that there are 117,700 (Assyrian/Chaldeans are estimated at between 10-20 thousand). The Statistical Center of Iran says that there are 25,000 Zoroastrians, although Zoroastrians claim that there are 60,000. It is believed that there are around 20,000 Jewish Iranian citizens. So in total that results in a total of between 165-400 thousand of the 4 recognized major religious minorities in Iran. Out of a population of around 76 million this is a tiny fraction.
Locating accurate election data figures from Iran is as easy as performing successful brain surgery without going to medical school. Because of this, the poorly referenced Wikipedia "facts" will have to suffice for the purposes of this blog (UPDATE: it is now clear that they are incorrect). Even if the results are inaccurate on Wikipedia (they are), there are multiple news articles corroborating the claim that 14 of the 290 Majles representatives are from religious minorities (this article insinuates that there currently are 5 spots for religious minorities but there will be 14 in the next election, however this apparently is a bad translation).
Iran is approximately 99% Muslim (90% Shia and 9% Sunni), and over 2% of the seats of the Majles go to about half of 1% of the total population. These 'Religious Minorities' vote on a DIFFERENT DAY than other voters and apparently are not allowed to