Candidates Look at Environmental Vote

Candidates Look at Environmental Vote Candidates Look at Environmental Vote

With the Majlis elections only days away, moderates and reformists hope to gain widespread support from environmentalists who have grown weary of the sitting lawmakers’ inaction toward the growing environmental problems.

In an unprecedented move, reformist and moderate-affiliated parties have formed a coalition to increase their numbers in the 290-seat Majlis, hoping to give President Hassan Rouhani more space to deliver on his campaign promises, which include environmental protection. The two factions barely have 26 seats in the chamber.

Candidates officially began campaigning for the February 26 elections on Friday, and wooing environmentalists is clearly high on their agenda for understandable reasons.

The coalition has reportedly prepared a 128-article plan for the next four years, 28 of which exclusively address environmental concerns, according to Mohammed Reza Aref, a prominent reformist candidate, a former vice president and a former presidential nominee who dropped out in favor of Rouhani in the 2013 vote.

“Our economic woes can be resolved in a few years with a strong plan, but environmental problems aren’t easily solved and directly affect future generations, and we’re responsible for that,” he said at a meeting with environmental activists and NGOs on Saturday, ILNA reported. “Our actions today, good or bad, will impact the next 30 years.”

He emphasized the need for acculturation and said environmental protection “must begin at home” and “to that end, NGOs play a key role.”

Recalling the scale of ecological problems in the country, Aref said protecting the environment cannot solely be the responsibility of the Department of Environment – the embattled top environmental body in Iran whose role, influence and performance leaves much to be desired.

“The DOE needs support and NGOs can help with that,” he said, taking a swipe at the previous two administrations (2005-13) for “stymieing the growth of NGOs.”

Echoing Aref’s sentiments, Davoud Mohammadi, another candidate, said the coalition will not allow NGOs to be shutdown. “We recently asked the Education Minister Ali Asghar Fani to include representatives from teachers’ associations in his inner circle, and we’re going to ask the same thing from the environmental chief.”

  Time for a Change

The meeting was well-attended by activists, who criticized the sitting Parliament and a several lawmakers for their environmentally unfriendly stance, but stressed that they need to know exactly what the candidates plan and intend to do to address the grave pollution and environmental problems.

Seyyed Rashed Fakhroddini, an environmentalist from Kurdestan Province, said that environmental conservation “transcends ethnicity and political leanings,” and that words must translate into action.

“Many of the sitting lawmakers have proposed ambitious construction projects to appease their constituents but with absolutely no regard for the (negative) environmental impact of the projects,” said Abbas Mohammadi, a member of the Mountain Watch group.

Esmaeil Kahrom, a popular academic and advisor to DOE chief Massoumeh Ebtekar, said he hopes the next Parliament would “adopt a firm stance against anti-environmental lobbying.”

The outspoken activist, who has publicly thrown his support behind Aref, said he believes every lawmaker must have an environment advisor because “not everyone is an expert at everything.”

  Bill Gathering Dust

Sitting legislators have drawn the ire of concerned Iranians for having done little in the way of alleviating environmental woes; case in point being the vital Clean Air Act, which has been pending in the Majlis for over a year — a bill environmentalists say can and will help significantly reduce pollution and improve air quality.

Factions and groups across the political spectrum have made known their intention to contest this week’s vote termed as “very crucial” by senior authorities of government, state and religion.  

Observers say this vote is all the more crucial because it is the first general election after the July nuclear agreement between Iran and the six world powers (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany). The deal is seen as instrumental in helping normalize Tehran’s relations with the outside world in key sectors including the economy, finance, banking and environmental protection.

The government in Tehran is now obviously not unaware of the fact that the society at large is gradually getting more conscious towards environmental issues as is the case in very many counties struggling with high pollution and the obliviousness of the authorities in charge.

Academia, environmentalists and economic experts of different schools have regularly called on the Iranian governments that they need to change the way the country conducts itself when it comes to the economy, energy consumption and industrial and waste management.

In short, the entire concept of sustainable development in Iran has gained extra currency in recent years as the people have started demanding efficiency and responsibility from all those in charge of the environment, more so from the elected officials and their representatives.