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Last Updated:  Sunday, 2 March, 2003, 17:15 GMT
Election loss clips Khatami's wings
Sadeq Saba
Iranian affairs analyst

Reformers in Iran have suffered their first election defeat since President Mohammad Khatami was elected in a landslide in 1997.

Iranian voter
The voter turnout across the country was disappointingly low

Leaders of the main pro-reform party, the Participation Front, have accepted that they had been crushed by conservative candidates in the country's nationwide local elections which were held on Friday.

They blame low turn-out and voter apathy for their defeat.

But the results of this poll can have far-reaching consequences for the reform movement in Iran.

Recent elections in Iran are full of surprises. Six years ago, Mr Khatami shocked the conservative establishment by winning a landslide victory on a reform platform.

Later, his supporters repeated his success in parliamentary and municipal elections.

But now the reformists themselves have been heavily defeated.

Popularity blow

Leaders of the reformist camp have blamed low turn-out for their shocking defeat. In the capital, Tehran, almost 90% of the electorate stayed away.

This is despite the fact that reformists have been urging their supporters to take part in the vote - they knew that these elections would be seen in part as a referendum on the popularity of Mr Khatami.

But public frustration with the slow pace of reform was so high that their calls were not heeded.

Analysts believe that this election defeat marks a serious setback for Mr Khatami who has always relied on his popular mandate.

If the same pattern is repeated in next year's parliamentary elections, it could seriously damage his programme of peaceful and gradual change in Iran's Islamic government.

In a bid to counteract this prospect, reformists may try to win back the hearts of the electorate by adopting bolder policies.

But their conservative rivals, boosted by their election victory, may even make more obstacles for reformists.

This could intensify power struggle in the Iranian leadership in the months ahead.

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