Saturday, May 14, 2016

Elected female member of Iranian parliament banned from taking her seat

In February, Minoo Khaleghi handily won a seat in the Iranian parliament along with many other independents and reformists, who now outnumber the conservative hard-liners.

The Dispute Settlement Committee of Branches, which is part of the generally conservative Iranian judiciary, ruled Khaleghi cannot be sworn in as a member of parliament. Iranian women must wear a head scarf while traveling abroad. However, photographs were leaked on social media showing Khaleghi in public both in Europe and China without a headscarf. Conservative hard-liners immediately charged Khaleghi with "betraying the nation."
Opposition analysts claim that the case against Khaleghi was politically motivated. They claim hard-liners were more concerned with marginalizing prominent reformists than about Khaleghi traveling abroad without wearing the head scarf. Opponents and Khaleghi also question the authenticity of the images. Khaleghi said in the official government newspaper that the photos are malicious fakes:“I am a Muslim woman, adhering to the principles of Islam.” She is suing those who distributed the images.
The reformists are fighting back. The Interior Ministry, whose head is an ally of the moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, arrested a hard-line activist for having published the photos. He is the administrator of the channel on the messaging application Telegram where the images first appeared. Rouhani himself sent out a tweet, indirectly supporting Khaleghi as one of 18 women elected to parliament in February:“For the first time, 18 women M.P.’s have made their way to the Majlis, which is a record, and we are happy that the dear ladies of our country are present in all scenes and especially in politics.” The Majlis is the Iranian parliament.
Reformists and moderate supporters of Rouhani won 122 seats in the 290-member parliament. The conservative hard-liners only held 84 according to state media. Independents held 82 seats. On crucial issues many independents side with Iranian conservative clerical leaders especially supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In spite of being the largest group, the moderates and reformers still often lack the majority needed to pass reformist legislation.
Within the state institutions, religion still often trumps the politics within the parliament. The reformers and moderates took all the seats in Tehran. Yet, the morality police continue to operate in the city and actors and artists receive warnings of possible prosecution for not behaving in an "Islamic" fashion.
Within weeks of winning the election Khaleghi was disqualified by the Guardian Council, a 12-member group that includes six clerics. The members are appointed by the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. No explanation of the decision was given even though the same council had screened her before the vote and had decided she was fit. Khaleghi and others are concerned that only the parliament is entitled to review and approve the credentials of legislators according to the Iranian constitution. This is the first time the Guardian Council has claimed the right to do so. Ali Shakourirad, a reformist legislator said: “This means that any winner in the elections can be disqualified by the Guardian Council. It sets a bad precedent for future elections.” The issue resulted in conflict between the government and the parliament. The Interior Ministry referred the case to the Dispute Settlement Committee of Branches, which decided Khaleghi could not take her seat.
It is still possible that Ayatollah Khamenei, who has the final say on the matter, could step in and reinstate her but he is more likely to recognize the judicial group's decision. Farshad Ghorbanpour, a political analyst close to the government said that the battle over Khaleghi is likely just one of many to come, with the division of the parliament between reformists hard-liners. and independents. This is just the first example of the hard-liners flexing their muscles he said but there will be many more. For the first time ever, the number of women in the new parliament 17 outnumbers the number of clerics elected 16. However, with Khaleghi so far unable to take her seat the two groups have the same number.


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