In Iran's upcoming election on June 12th it seems as though incumbent Ahmadinejad may be facing a host of forces that could spell his electoral undoing. In a previous diary I outlined the field he faces which includes a serious challenge on the right--you can see it HERE. In another diary I outlined candidate Mousavi's specific targeting of the women's vote--you can read that here: Mousavi's Gamble. This diary will focus on the rather large minority groups that live in Iran and the potential impact they could have come June 12th.
Let's start with the numbers from the CIA World Factbook:
- Persian 51%
- Azeri 24%
- Gilaki and Mazandarani 8%
- Kurd 7%
- Arab 3%
- Lur 2%
- Baloch 2%
- Turkmen 2%
- other 1%
Now. let's look at the map:
From the percentage breakdowns one can surmise pretty quickly that the Azeris, a Turkish minority that speak their own dialect and Farsi, compose a significant voting block. Guess which candidate is an Azeri? Answer: Mousavi. He recently declared at a campaign event in Azerbaijan "I am the son of Azerbaijan," and delivered the speech in the local dialect. (Here is the source of this information and quote.) The Reform candidate Mehdi Karroubi is a Lur, and he is likely to carry a bulk of that voting block.
The most significant issue with ethnic minority voting pertains to the Islamic Revolutionary government dominated by Persians. There is no question that Iran is overwhelmingly Islamic, 98% of Iranians are Muslim (89% Shia, 9% Sunni). However, the emphasis on hard right Revolutionary Government tends to de-emphasize difference and enforce conformity. There is a direct comparison to Republican flag-waving nativism here in the US and Ahmadinejad and his hard-line supporters lack of tolerance. Reform candidates have typically drawn well among ethnic minorities, and Mehdi Karroubi, who ran in the 2005 election showed well among them. However, it is entirely possible that ethnic minorities were disillusioned with Khatami's lack of progress as much as urban center moderates, and did not feel they had any realistic options in the '05 contest. This time around, Khatami himself is reported to be campaigning heavily for Mousavi in the provinces among ethnic minorities. (It should be noted that Khatami could not run in 2005--under Iran's constitution someone can only serve two consecutive terms.) Despite his perceived lack of progress, he and the Reform Party established a strong connection with the minority ethnic groups of Iran. In addition, Khamenei can continue to make statements about candidates not caving to the West like this:
"Those who submit to the enemies and bring shame on the nation should not come to power by the people's vote," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said during a speech in the western town of Bijar.
Reported in the LA Times, and cited in the Huffington Post
but he can't make any statements that question the loyalty of ethnic minoritites, and Mousavi's efforts to aggressively court this vote is a move difficult to counter directly. The Kurds, in particular, have been very loyal to Iran, despite the positioning of their counterparts in Iraq and Turkey.
Similar to the women's vote, the question is whether ethnic minorities will go significantly for one candidate over another. It is possible that they will recognize that Mousavi has a better chance than Karroubi and vote accordingly. In general, like Democrats here in the US, the Reform Party benefits from large voter turnouts, and the economy in Iran, or lack there of, certainly has everyone's attention at the moment. If the ethnic minorities practically see Mousavi as the candidate with their interests in mind, and the most likely to win, they, together with women, could deliver a first round upset to Mousavi if the Conservative vote splits between Ahmadinejad and Rezai.