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Saturday, 9 June, 2001, 13:45 GMT 14:45 UK
Re-election could spark more crises
Current Iran spiritual leader Ayatollah Khamenei (L) and first Ayatollah Khomenei
Conservatives are likely to step up opposition to reform
By Middle East analyst Roger Hardy

The Iranian people appear, once again, to have signalled in the most unmistakeable fashion their thirst for change.

They did so before, when they elected Mohammad Khatami - then a relatively little known cleric - in 1997.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami
President Khatami faces further confrontations with conservatives
The vote was a rude shock to Iran's conservative religious establishment.

But once the shock had worn off, the conservatives fought back and did much to weaken the president and block his reformist programme.

Mr Khatami himself has described his first four years as a "tunnel of crisis".

He was reluctant to stand again.

No street fighter

At heart, he is an intellectual, not a political street-fighter.

The rivalry between liberals and conservatives in Iran is often described as a power struggle. But in some ways it is an unusual, and uneasy, form of power-sharing.

The two camps are united in their commitment to the Islamic system.

What divides them is how that system should work and, above all, how democratic it should be - how much freedom should be accorded to the media, to women, to the young.

The conservatives have been badly shaken by the Khatami phenomenon.

Crises ahead

They have responded by fighting back - and also by trying to steal some of the reformists' clothes.

It is a tribute to Mr Khatami that nowadays virtually everyone speaks about democracy and reform - though each faction interprets these things in its own way.

But further crises, further confrontations, seem certain to lie ahead.

A handsome victory for Mr Khatami will not resolve the inherent contradictions in Iran's political system.

On the contrary, it may serve to intensify them.

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See also:

09 Jun 01 | Middle East
Khatami heads for crushing victory
08 Jun 01 | Middle East
In pictures: Iran goes to the polls
01 Jun 01 | Middle East
Iran election: People and policies
08 Jun 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Iran's political prisoners
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