Poverty in Golestan is a few times worse than in other provinces in Iran. (Supplied)

By Hessam Ghanatir

January 24, 2020

A politician’s promise to award a “cash prize” of $3million to anyone who kills President Donald Trump may win him enough votes in the February 21 parliamentary elections to secure him another four years in power.

Ahmad Hamzeh, the representative from Kahnuj in Kerman province, went public with the radical challenge on January 21, and was quickly dismissed as “ridiculous” by US Disarmament Ambassador Robert Wood, who told reporters in Geneva the comment exposed the “terrorist underpinnings of Iran’s establishment.” Hamzeh was extensively ridiculed on social media as well but, from his own perspective and that of his supporters, the gesture was seen as a winning card in the forthcoming parliamentary elections in February — even though his offer of a cash prize for Trump’s assassination would mean that it would come from taxpayers.

“On behalf of the people of Kerman province, we will pay a $3 million reward in cash to whoever kills Trump,” Representative Hamzeh told the parliament on Tuesday, January 21. The gesture is also significant because Kerman is the birthplace of General Ghasem Soleimani, the Revolutionary Guards commander who was killed in a drone strike by US forces at Baghdad Airport on January 3. Hamzeh added that every resident of Kerman would contribute $1 towards the bounty.

Second Poorest Province in Iran

As Ahmad Hamzeh talked about a $3 million reward for a terrorist act paid for by the people of Kerman, he conveniently disregarded the fact that his constituents live in the second poorest province in Iran — about 40 percent of the population lives beneath the poverty line. Not only that, but the electoral district of Kahnuj that he represents is one of the poorest in the province, something that he himself told the parliament on January 8, only days before his call to arms against Trump [Persian link]. He said that in the southern part of Kerman province, where Kahnuj is situated, more than 50 percent of schools lack heating and cooling systems or access to safe drinking water. And the media has reported on schools that consist of only a tent, villages that have no electricity and dirt roads.

As a rule, a month before any parliamentary election one can expect strange and dramatic pronouncements from representatives and candidates, especially if the competition is tough, and Hamzeh does face tough competition. So it it is no surprise that he tried to get ahead in the race in one fell swoop and to compensate for his relative silence over the last four years. Hamzeh has little political experience and before he was elected to the 10th Parliament of the Islamic Republic in 2016, he practiced medicine. In the few interviews he has given over the last four years, he has mostly raised issues of healthcare.

In the 2016 parliamentary elections, he was supported by reformists and his speeches in parliament have followed the reformist line. For instance, in a speech on August 29, 2019, he criticized the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) for its criticisms of President Rouhani’s administration. Unlike some other members of the parliament who are well known for their unconventional and peculiar utterances, Hamzeh had never said anything that made the headlines, let alone international headlines.

His management experience is limited to the field of medicine and to Kerman province. His only notable positions have been running heath and treatment centers in Roodbar and Kahnuj counties in Kerman province. Due to the extreme poverty in Kahnuj, people display a sense of gratitude toward provincial officials who pay them any attention, especially those who visit the district’s villages, which Hamzeh did, spending time  to talk with villagers.

Famed for Poverty

Hamzeh’s electoral district includes the cities of Kahnuj, Manujan, South Roodbar, Ghalehganj and Faryab. Before his speech offering a reward for the assassination of President Trump, these cities were known mainly because of the many reports on poverty there, including a letter written by Zeinab, Havva, and Zivar, three young sisters from the village of Chah Poolad, to President Rouhani [Persian link]. In the letter, the three children complained that their village lacks electricity, a school and drinking water, and this provided Ahmad Hamzeh with the perfect chance to advertise his efficiency. “After negotiations with the president, it was decided that a road for this village will be constructed,” he announced [Persian link].

But before this, South Roodbar had made the news when it was reported that 124 school in the county lack any medical facilities and 120 schools operate without buildings, forcing students to attend classes held in the open air under trees or in tents [Persian link].

Drug trafficking is another problem in Kahnuj. In May 2019, a video was posted on social media that showed drug traffickers transporting drugs openly in Kahnuj. Soon after the video was released, the city’s governor, Vahdat Eydi, announced that the person who had posted the video had been arrested [Persian link]. He claimed that the video showed the police confiscating drugs and arresting a drug trafficking gang. The problem with this explanation was that nobody in the video was wearing a uniform.

In the context of this extreme poverty where people’s needs and demands are routinely ignored, representatives from this district do not tend last more than one or two terms. This is the climate in the run-up to these elections too, and Hamzeh faces serious competition, including from Mohammad Amiri, who represented Kahnuj in the 8th and 9th parliaments (2012-2016).

So Ahmad Hamzeh is right to worry about his rivals. It is for this reason that he tried to steal the show, play on people’s emotions, and make a name for himself via his speech to the parliament. General Soleimani was the most famous figure from Kerman, and Hamzeh hopes to become a famous figure in the province as well by offering a reward to avenge the general.

And he might well succeed. Just hours after his speech, his name appeared not only on local and Iranian social media, but also featured in coverage by international media and news agencies. This, to a degree, was true in the case of General Soleimani himself, whose fame owed a lot to reports about him in western media.

The results of this gamble will be known after the February parliamentary elections. In the meantime, the poverty-stricken people of south Kerman could definitely use an infusion of $3 million — an amount that has now in theory been earmarked to fund a terrorist act.

Iran Wire

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.