Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday (C) arrives for the opening of the Setareh Khalij Fars (Star of the Persian Gulf) refinery in the Gulf port city of Bandar Abbas. Photo: AFP/ hand out/ Iranian Presidency.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Campaigns for the Iranian presidential, city and village council elections kicked off in late April. Landmarks and walls are increasingly seen bearing posters of candidates who have already started rallying and canvassing. Election campaigning is especially heated on Iran’s only permitted social network known as Telegram.
The Kurdish population in Iran, or the eastern Kurdistan, awaits another round of national elections to see whether candidates will live up to their campaign promises. They have tested the reliability of many candidates in past elections, but say that so far none have followed through on campaign promises.
They do not have many options in the upcoming Iranian presidential elections. Kurds will be facing three options: following the path chosen by Kurdish parties to boycott the elections, voting for Hassan Rouhani who didn't live up to his previous campaign promises, or radicals who don't believe in the demands of the Kurdish nation.
These three options have polarized opinions among the Kurds. The Kurdish United Front, an organization working inside eastern Kurdistan, has not yet declared its stance on the candidates, unlike other political parties of the region.
“We haven’t yet decided which candidate to support,” Dr Azad Muhammediani, spokesperson for the Kurdish United Front, told Rudaw, adding that they haven’t yet spoken to the candidates to see which ones are willing to fulfill their demands.
The Kurdish United Front have called for a meeting with reformist and moderate candidates. They say they are closer to reformists as they are apparently more willing to listen to their demands.
The incumbent president, Hassan Rouhani, promised a number of things to the Kurds and other nations in Iran in his previous election campaigns, but didn't follow through on most of them. This is what The Kurdish United Front and Kurdish activists find concerning about reformists and moderates
“We need guarantees in order to support Rouhani,” Muhammediani added. Many Kurdish activists argue that the Kurds shouldn't give Hassan Rouhani a blank cheque.
“Under current conditions, and out of the available choices, Rouhani is more suitable than others,” Dr Kareem Fatahpur, former MP for Urmia in the Iranian parliament, said.
Rouhani in coordination with Kurdish activists issued a statement in his first election campaign in which he promised the Kurds certain things. Had he followed through on those promises, the Kurds would support him again without hesitation.
Education in their mother tongue and appointing Kurdish officials in specific departments were among Rouhani’s most important campaign promises in his first bid for president. He also promised to dedicate a special budget to develop underprivileged areas and eliminate discrimination, but lived up to few of his campaign promises.
“Rouhani wasn't successful in settling internal questions, unlike external ones,” Fatahpur added. The problem for the Kurds is that other candidates don't have anything to offer them. That is why they might support Rouhani again.
The radical candidates don't believe in the demands of the Kurds or the rights of other ethnic or religious minorities. This along with Rouhani’s unfulfilled promises has limited voting options for the Kurds. Hence, voter turnout in this round of elections might be low, Fatahpur predicts.
“Rouhani’s not committing to his promises has made people feel hopeless,” he explained.
However, Kurdish activists believe that there was some kind of tolerance toward (the Kurds) during Rouhani’s presidency, claiming security situations in Kurdish populated areas were not as tough as they were during the eight years of presidency by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Appointing a Sunni Kurdish ambassador and opening a Kurdish language department at Sanandaj University are viewed by some as positive changes that Rouhani has brought about during his presidency of the country. That is why some people feel that he should be supported again in this round of elections.
But six main parties of the Kurdish region have decided to boycott this year’s elections and have also called upon people to abstain from them.
However, KODAR which is regarded as a Kurdistan Workers Party’s (PKK) affiliate group in the Kurdish region of Iran, has asked people to participate in these elections.