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Non-Persian representatives quit over Rouhani budget

The Iranian parliament was left reeling this week after Arab-majority Khuzestan province's 18 representatives as well as most parliamentarians from Kurdistan and Lorestan quit over President Hassan Rouhani's budget.

Controversy surrounds the cuts in budgets to impoverished non-Persian provinces to the benefit of central provinces.

Ahwazi Majlis member Salehi Nasab accused the President and the Energy minister of inflicting cruelty on the region. The diversion of the River Karoun to Isfahan and a 70% cut in the province's infrastructure budget were among the grievances listed by Nasab for the mass resignation.

Mohammad Sadat Ibrahimi said: "We understand that the budget must be tightened. But the pressure must not always be on poorer provinces. We just expect justice in allocating the budget. We also strongly oppose plans to take water out of our provinces."

The deputy head of the representatives from Khuzestan, Abdullah Tamimi, said that the reason they all resigned together was because administration officials had ignored the demands they had presented in meetings before the budget was presented Sunday.

“The demands and funds that are needed for the province were presented from the beginning, when the administration came into office,” Tamimi said. “In the meetings with administration officials, they promised us that our demands would be represented in the budget. Now they’ve brought the budget to parliament, and none of our demands were represented.”

Tamimi continued, “When the views of the representatives on various issues are not observed in the administration’s decision-making, we do not see a need to continue to have a presence in parliament because we cannot implement the wants of the people.”

Ahwaz representative Seyed Sharif Hosseini also complained that when the Foolad corporation of Khuzestan was sold, its funds were allocated to projects in Tehran, while when corporations of other provinces were sold, the funds were spent in that province.

Majlis member Abdollah Tamyomi told Parliament: "According to earlier agreements, the administration has promised to allot a special line of credit to address problems in the many underprivileged cities of Khuzestan, but the proposed budget failed to address this matter.

"Meanwhile, the administration and the president have taken unacceptable steps toward transferring water from Karoon River sources to other parts of the country, which is leading to further destruction of agriculture in Khuzestan."

He added that the project to redirect water from these sources is "treason against national interests and the people of Khuzestan Province", however the government is pressing ahead with the project.

Seyed Sharif Hosseini, a parliament member from Ahwaz said, that in reviewing the preliminary budget for the following year, the funds allocated to “Khuzestan, with respect to other provinces, had a drastic decrease and although some other provinces had a decrease in their budget, there has been extra oppression against Khuzestan.”

Seven of nine MPs from the ethnic Lori province of Lorestan also quit as did six from Kurdistan province amid anger over discrimination by the Rouhani administration. Altogether, 10 per cent of Iran's parliament have resigned in protest at the policies of a president who was elected, in part, on his pledge to help improve the welfare and representation of non-Persian nationalities.

“Even though I don’t believe that resignation will bring any change, the benefit of this action is that the government will hear the objection of the MPs,” said Kurdish MP Hamed Qaderwarzi. Kurdish MPs said that all vital and important projects in the Kurdish Province have been reduced or eliminated in the draft budget for Kurdistan Province.

The MPs fear that the region, already among the country’s most deprived and poorest, will lag behind the rest of the country. The Kurdish MPs believe that the new budget suggests that Rouhani is backtracking on campaign promises to treat the Kurdish province as a potential region for growth.

“President Rouhani made a few promises to the people of Kurdistan, but in the budget we don’t see any sign of his promises, especially for development projects,” Qaderwarzi said.

According to parliament member Iraj Abdi from Lorestan, Article 180 of Iran’s fifth Five-Year plan states that provinces that are economically deprived must have their budgets increased by 2% each year, and the new budget does not reflect this rule. MPs from other provinces in the southwest also voiced their concern, with Emran Ali Mohamadi of Ilam - which has a mixed Kurdish and Lori population - complaining that people in his province had no decent drinking water, high unemployment and not even one kilometre of highway. He added: "It's not fair that most of the budget is absorbed by privileged provinces."

Residents of Chaharmahal va Bakhtiari also share the anger of Ahwazi Arabs against the river diversion programme, which benefits the wealthy Isfahan province while cutting them off from clean water sources. Rage boiled over into a storm of protest on social media following comments by Isfahan Governor Rasoul Zargarpour that his province was politically and socially superior than the people of Khuzestan and Chaharmahal va Bakhtiari.

In reaction, a resident of Chaharmahal va Bakhtiari contacted Ahwaz News Agency saying: "Isfahan is run by fascists. They are destroying the environment in Khuzestan and Chaharmahal va Bakhtiari. We need help from the United Nations to stop the water transfer projects. Save Karoun and stop the Golba river diversion tunnel in Chaharmahal va Bakhtiari."