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Divisions emerge over ethnic vote in the Iranian presidential election

A third potential presidential candidate has sought to appeal directly to the Ahwazi Arab vote in an acknowledgement that ethnicity is emerging as a major political force in the presidential election.

Veteran conservative and a former commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, who is of ethnic Lori descent, said he felt "ashamed" of the poor human development in Mohammareh/Khorramshahr.

Referring to the lack of progress following the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, he said: "Years after freeing the city, I feel ashamed of the failure... Khuzestan suffers from basic problems relation to water, the environment, employment and industry."

In a side-swipe against institutional racism, he said "considering ethnic groups as a threat is an unforgivable sin... When management and decision-making is centralised, there is a lack of appreciation of local capacities" and as a result it is a threat to national prosperity and security.

However, the Supreme Leader's representative in Ahwaz City, Friday imam Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Mosavi Jazayeri, has hit out against attempts to mobilise ethnic support as treasonous, claiming that "ethno-nationalism in the elections is a betrayal to the city, the government and the revolution. People have to change their attitudes towards election campaigning."

In recent days, two other conservative presidential hopefuls - Mohsen Rezaee and Hassan Rouhani - have sought to articulate growing Ahwazi Arab anger at racial discrimination and poverty in order to win votes from the community. However, Ahwazi political parties refuse to endorse any candidate and called for a boycott. They have warned against the dangers of electoral opportunism that may boost the turnout and legitimise the regime, but ultimately achieve no material progress for indigenous Arabs.