Too Pretty To Be A Councillor
Too Pretty To Be A Councillor
City council elections in Qazvin, a city northwest of Tehran, are usually a dull affair. But this year, Nina Siahkali Moradi, a 27-year-old architecture graduate student, provoked what local media called an “election phenomenon” by winning 10,000 votes, more than other established politicians and city elites, and bringing her within reach of obtaining a Council seat.
Moradi attends Qazvin's Azad University, where she also pursues calligraphy and martial arts. That unique background colored her campaign; her campaign manager was an artist, her posters immediately stood out, and her headquarters became a gathering hub for local young people. The behaviour and clothing of her young supporters provoked much disdain amongst her opponents, mostly older conservative men.
One of these older rivals, Sefatollah Salehi, who worked in the public relations department of the Qazvin’s mayor’s office, protested what he saw at Moradi's headquarters on his weblog. He went even further and requested that his concerns be investigated. Coincidentally, local media reported around the same time that authorities had confiscated the campaign posters of two female candidates, Maryam Nakhostin-Ahmadi and Shahla Atefeh, and detained both for questioning. The local political establishment did not find all this female campaigning amusing.
When the final results were announced, election authorities initially reported that Moradi had done well, but was just 700 votes shy of an outright City Council seat. The review board approved the results and the newly elected council held their first session in order to decide who would be the future mayor of Qazvin. After deliberations the Council elected its sitting member Ali Farazad as mayor, since he had received the most votes out of all the candidates running in the city council. With Farazad vacating his council seat and into the mayor’s office, Nina’s chances for becoming a City Council member increased. Her votes had placed her in the runner-up position for a Council seat, should one be vacated.
But after the mayoral announcement, Moradi said she hadn't heard anything from voting officials. “Almost 10,000 people voted for me and based on that I should be the first alternate member of the City Council,” she told local media. As the first alternate, she would have filled Ali Farazad’s council seat who was now set to become the mayor of Qazvin.
But Seyed Reza Hossaini, Qazvin’s representative in Parliament and an election review board member, said this would not be the case. “[Moradi's] votes have been nullified due to her disqualification, as the review board did not approve her credentials. We have told her the reason why she has been disqualified.” But when asked about the review board's decision, Moradi said she had received no explanation: “I have no information as to why they did this, you need to ask them.”
Those who opposed Moradi's candidacy say that she was only elected because of her beauty and youth. The review board, comprised of elder conservatives, had objected to her election posters and materials, and used this as a pretext to stop her from joining the council.
Women aspirants to Qazvin’s City Council have a storied history full of hardship and battles. Many people in Qazvin began to compare Moradi to Parisa Tirsahar, a City Council member during the reformist era of former president Mohammad Khatami. But even then Tirsahar had to fight her way onto the City Council, despite the election committee and the review board were closer to the reformists. Tirsahar had the most votes that year and ran on a witty campaign slogan: “Nah Issa, Nah Mousa, Faghat Parisa! (Not Jesus, Not Moses, Only Parsia)!” Even after winning the clear majority of the votes, the election authorities tried to sideline her until they had no choice and eventually gave her the last spot on the City Council.
Mohammed Olaiyehfard, a lawyer and law expert in Qazvin, put this supposed violation in context: “This issue is a violation of election law by the election review board. If someone breaks the law during the election, the review board and election committee can review the individual’s actions. But when the results have been announced, they cannot nullify the results. The review board cannot disqualify anyone who has officially won the election. If not following Islamic jurisprudence is an election violation, it can’t be grounds for her disqualification because her credentials have already been approved by the proper election authorities. For this reason, it is illegal for the election review board to disqualify someone who had initially been qualified to run and then later won the election. It seems that this is a pretext in order to create an obstacle in order for this individual to not be able to join the Qazvin City Council.”
Nina Siakhali Moradi to this day still has not been told by the election authorities as to why she was disqualified after winning a seat on the Qazvin City Council.
Translated from the original Persian by Hanif Kashani.