Australian Muslim Party's tough road to representation

A mother and daughter at the Lakemba Mosque in Sydney, Australia Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A new Australian political party is aiming to address under-representation of Muslims

Australia is not short of political parties.

There are more than 60 officially registered.

From today you can add another to the list: the Australian Muslim Party.

The party has been set up by Diaa Mohamed, a 34-year-old businessman from Sydney, who says he will initially target a seat in the Australian senate in federal elections next year.

Mr Mohamed said he was establishing the party to address the under-representation of Muslims in Australian political life.

And that is undoubtedly an issue, especially at a national level.

One Muslim MP

Australia has a long-established Muslim community numbering about a half-a-million people, roughly 2% of the national population.

But remarkably out of 250 MPs and senators in the federal parliament there is only one member who follows the Islamic faith, Labor's Ed Husic, who is of Bosnian heritage.

Indeed Mr Husic is the only Muslim ever to have been a member of a sitting government's front bench.

By comparison, in Britain Muslims make up roughly 5% of the population. There are 13 Muslim MPs out of a total of 650 - still an under-representation, but considerably better than Australia.

Questions raised

The timing of the announcement, just days after the attacks in Paris, is likely to draw criticism.

But saying he had given it some thought, Mr Mohamed defended the decision.

Image copyright Diaa Mohamed
Image caption Australian Muslim Party founder Diaa Mohamed

"There are going to be a lot of questions raised in the coming days of the events recently, and this is the whole reason we created this party," Mr Mohamed told ABC Radio.

"It's as good a time as any to launch it."

Australia's Muslim community has sometimes been criticised for not speaking out loudly enough in the debate about Islamic extremism.

"Maybe it is because we didn't know how, or we were a bit too fragmented, so hopefully this will at least give us that opportunity," he said.

He also said he established the party in response to the emergence of anti-Islamic parties.

This includes the recently registered Love Australia or Leave Party set up by Kim Vuga, a former star of the reality TV show Go Back to Where You Came From.

Mr Mohamed said he had consulted widely with religious community leaders of all faiths and stressed that the party would be open to non-Muslims.

Likelihood of success?

But his chances of winning a senate seat are slim. Even in the parliamentary constituency with the highest proportion of Muslims, just over 20% of people follow the Islamic faith.

Senators in Australia are elected at a state or territory level. Approximately half of all senate seats, 40 in total, are contested at each federal election.

"Anyone can set up a political party," ABC's political analyst Antony Green told me.

"It doesn't mean you're going to get elected and it's far from clear how much community support he (Mr Mohammed) has."

That said, Australia's convoluted electoral system, where political wheeler-dealing is often more important than the number of votes registered, means it is possible to be elected with very limited support.

Ricky Muir of the Motoring Enthusiast Party, a political entity with a pretty limited agenda, won a senate seat in 2013 despite only receiving 0.51% of first preference votes.

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