MUSLIM ELECTIONS PRODUCE RELIGIOUS OR
Iran’s Guardian Council Tries to Exclude Non-Muslims from Running
April 19, 2017
Human Rights Watch
Authorities in Iran are threatening new restrictions on non-Muslims seeking to run in next month’s local elections.
Just one week before parliament is to approve a list of candidates, a
letter published this week by Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the head of the
Guardian Council, declared it is against Sharia (Islamic law) for
non-Muslims to be candidates in Shia Muslim-majority areas in city and
village council elections. These contests, along with the presidential
election, are set for May 19.
Religious minorities, especially members of the Bahai faith, who are
not recognized in Iran’s constitution, suffer from serious
discrimination. Even religious minorities recognized in the
constitution cannot run for the presidency, and their participation in
parliament is limited. But the law for city and village councils is
clear: article 26 of the 1996 council election law allows candidates
from recognized religious minorities to run as candidates in city and
village elections so long as they “believe in and demonstrate their
commitment to their own religious principles in practice.”
In 2013, for the first time, a Zoroastrian was elected to the city
council of Yazd to represent the city’s diverse Muslim and non-Muslim
residents. The Guardian Council, an appointed body of 12 Islamic
jurists who are in charge of monitoring parliamentary and presidential
elections, has long arbitrarily disqualified large numbers of
candidates running for office. Now it is seeking to unilaterally amend
the 20-year-old council election law.
But it is Iran’s parliament that is legally empowered to vet city and
village council candidates – not the Guardian Council – and so far, it
appears that the parliament is standing its ground. Today, Esfandiar
Ekhtiari, the Zoroastrian member of parliament, called the Council's
letter “unconstitutional.” And the head of parliament has requested
that parliamentarians overseeing the vetting process act in accordance
with the law and not change the procedure.
The real test for Iran’s parliament will come next week when the list
of candidates are announced. Then, we will know if these elected
representatives have resisted the Guardian Council’s dangerous inroads
and kept space open for more Iranians of differing religions to
represent their fellow citizens in political office.
International monitors deliver scathing verdict on Turkish referendum
By James Masters and Kara Fox, CNN
Mon April 17, 2017
Ankara (CNN) International election monitors have delivered a scathing
verdict on the conduct of Turkey's controversial referendum to grant
expansive new powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Representatives from a coalition of international bodies said the vote
took place on an "unlevel playing field" with the "yes" campaign
dominating media coverage. Voters were not provided with adequate
information, opposition voices were muzzled and the rules were changed
at the last minute, they said.
"The legal framework remained inadequate for the holding of a genuinely
democratic referendum," the monitors' initial report stated.
Erdogan's margin of victory in the referendum was razor-thin. Despite a
state of emergency and a widespread crackdown on dissent, he succeeded
in persuading only 51.4% of voters to back his constitutional upheaval.
The three biggest cities in Turkey -- Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir --
rejected the plans, which would abolish Turkey's system of
parliamentary democracy and replace it with an executive presidency
with sweeping, largely unchecked powers.
Opposition groups vowed to challenge the outcome, citing a rule change
to allow unstamped ballots, announced after polls had opened.
European governments acknowledged the result but bristled at a
suggestion by Erdogan that he would seek the restoration of the death
penalty -- a move that would sink Turkey's long-stalled bid to join the
A supporter of the "yes" brandishes a picture of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The results cement a years-long effort by Erdogan to consolidate his
position. After serving as prime minister for nearly a decade, he took
over as president in 2014 and through force of personality turned a
largely ceremonial role into a de facto head of government.
A failed coup last year allowed him to turn up the heat on opposition
voices in the run-up to Sunday's referendum. The "no" campaign said it
faced intimidation and threats of violence, while opposition figures
and journalists were jailed. The narrowness of the result, coupled with
allegations of irregularities, sets the scene for further instability.
The monitors -- a partnership of the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe and the Council for Europe -- offered a harsh
analysis on the way the referendum was conducted.
Presenting their preliminary findings at a news briefing in Ankara,
Tana de Zulueta, head of the monitoring mission, described a litany of
• The state of emergency imposed after a failed coup
last July had a profound effect on the political process. "Fundamental
freedoms essential to a genuinely democratic process were curtailed,"
the monitors' report said. "The dismissal or detention of thousands of
citizens negatively affected the political environment."
• State media was biased in favor of Erdogan and did
not adequately cover opposition. "The legal framework for the
referendum neither sufficiently provides for impartial coverage nor
guarantees eligible political parties equal access to public media,"
• Monitors saw "no" supporters subjected to police
intervention at events and senior officials in the "yes" camp equated
them with terrorists.
• The involvement of Erdogan and other national and
local public figures in the "yes" campaign led to a "restrictive" and
"imbalanced" campaign framework, she said.
The decision on referendum day to allow unstamped ballots
"significantly changed the ballot validity criteria, undermining an
important safeguard and contradicting the law."
Erdogan showed no signs of being cowed by the narrow margin of victory.
In a rousing speech to supporters in Ankara, he hailed the result and
attacked his Western critics. The vote demonstrated that Turkish people
had said "Yes to a single nation. Yes to a single flag...Yes to a
single state," he said.
He reiterated his desire to restore the death penalty as crowds chanted: "We want capital punishment."
Opposition parties criticized the decision of election authorities to allow ballots that did not bear an official stamp.
Bulent Tezcan, deputy chairman of the main opposition party, the CHP,
said his party would contest the result in Turkey and, if necessary, at
the European Court of Human Rights.
"The only decision that will end legitimacy debate and ease people's
concerns about the judiciary is for the High Election Board to cancel
the referendum," Tezcan said.
Once confirmed, moves could get underway to implement the 18-article
reform package put forward by the ruling Justice and Development Party
• Abolishing the post of prime minister and replacing
it with a powerful executive president with powers to rule by decree.
• Giving the president the power to appoint a cabinet and some senior judges.
• Curbing the power of parliament to scrutinize legislation.
Resetting term limits for president, meaning Erdogan could serve until 2029 if he wins elections in 2019 and 2024.
Ahmet Kasim Han, an associate professor at Kadir Has University in
Istanbul, said the result would "profoundly change the way the country
Critics of the proposals say they give overly broad powers to the
president, Han said. Supporters of the "Yes" result argue the changes
are justified given the "existential threat" on the country's southern
borders with Iraq and Syria, along with last summer's attempted coup,
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the result showed that "Turkish
society is deeply divided" and called for the Turkish government to
engage in "respectful dialogue" with all political entities.
In a joint statement with Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, she called
on the Turkish government to "address concerns" about the voting
The office of the French President, Francois Hollande, warned that any
referendum in Turkey on the reinstatement of the death penalty would
constitute a break with EU values and commitments.
The Council of Europe, a human rights organization which promotes
European values and of which Turkey is a member, said the tight vote
meant the country would have to proceed with caution.
"In view of the close result the Turkish leadership should consider the
next steps carefully," said the statement from Secretary General
As the results came in, thousands of the president's supporters
converged at the Ankara headquarters of the AKP, which Ergodan
founded.Waving flags they shouted, "Tell us to kill, we will kill. Tell
us to die, we will die. Erdogan, Erdogan, Erdogan."
But there were just as many who were devastated by the result.
Umut Serin, a 32-year-old marine engineer who was working at a polling
station in central Istanbul told CNN: "The government tried to reflect
it as if the yes votes were clearly ahead, from the very start. They
created this perception through the media. There was huge pressure on
Serkan Taskent, 31, a PHD student in Istanbul, said the opposition was
not strong enough to stop the reforms going ahead. "If the opposition
continues to be this ineffective, which looks like it's going to be,
then it will be very hard to bring the 23.7 million opposition voters
to the ballots again."
WORD FAITH INDEX
CATHOLIC CHURCH INDEX