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Sunday, 5 August, 2001, 02:10 GMT 03:10 UK
Khamenei blocks the reformists
Current Iran spiritual leader Ayatollah Khamenei (L) and first Ayatollah Khomenei
This is not the first time conservatives have blocked reformists
Middle East analyst Roger Hardy examines whether Ayatollah Khamenei will still be seen as a neutral figure standing above the political fray in Iran

A row between conservatives and the reformist-dominated Iranian parliament has led to the postponement of Sunday's swearing-in of President Mohammad Khatami at the start of his second term in office.

If anyone had imagined that Mohammad Khatami's landslide victory in June's presidential elections would resolve the tensions in Iranian politics, this latest dispute makes it clear that the faction-fighting is as fierce as ever.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami
Khatami - reelected with a huge majority
Buoyed by Mr Khatami's success - he won 77% of the votes - the reformists have been quick to flex their muscles by trying to block new appointments to the powerful Council of Guardians, a body dominated by conservative clergy.

In response, the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has intervened, saying in effect to the reformists "If you block these appointments, I will block the swearing-in of Mr Khatami".

Draconian press laws

It's not the first time the supreme leader has intervened to put pressure on parliament.

He did so to prevent the reformists from liberalising the country's draconian press laws.

On that occasion, the reformist parliamentarians had no choice but to back down.

The supreme leader is, after all, the final arbiter in Iranian's unique system of Islamic government.

But many felt then - and will feel now - that the supreme leader has devalued the authority of his office by identifying so closely with one political faction.

Far from being a neutral figure standing above the political fray, he has become the conservatives' weapon of last resort.

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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