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Monday, 21 February, 2000, 15:42 GMT
Analysis: Obstacles to change

pro Khatami supporters Iranians voted overwhelmingly for reformists


By Iranian affairs analyst Sadeq Saba

For the first time since President Mohammad Khatami came to power in 1997, both the cabinet and parliament will be dominated by reformists.

Khatami and Interior Minister Abdolavahed Nousavi Lari President Khatami shares a joke with his interior minister
But implementing reforms may not be as easy as the moderates promise.

President Khatami's supporters have often complained in the past two and half years that the conservatives have used their majority in parliament to block reforms.

The reformists saw the Iranian legislature as one of the biggest obstacles to introducing more freedoms in Iran and normalising relations with the West, including the United States.

And they promised to bring the parliament into line with Mr Khatami's reform agenda if they won in the general elections.

The last word

The Iranian electorate, in a record turnout, have now given the reformists the mandate to carry out change.

khamenei Iran's supreme leader can still veto reforms
But in the Iranian political system parliament is only one of the centres of power and it does not have the final word. It's not even the sole institution to pass legislation.

The Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is constitutionally the highest political, military and religious authority in the Islamic Republic.

He appoints the head of the judiciary and controls the police and security services. He cannot dissolve the parliament but, if he decides, he can use his vast powers to block reforms.

'Quiet coup etat'

Furthermore, all parliamentary bills must be approved by the conservative-dominated Council of Guardians to ensure they are compatible with the constitution and Islamic values.

The council has 12 members, six appointed by the supreme leader and the other six nominated by the head of the judiciary and approved by parliament.

Iranian cleric at demo Conservative clerics are facing a dilemma
The main question now is whether the conservatives will use their key powers to block reforms.

Supporters of President Khatami fear that some hardline elements may even attempt to use violence to do so.

The commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards warned a few weeks ago that pro-Western liberals were trying to seize the Iranian parliament by what he termed 'a quiet coup d'etat'.

But most observers believe that military action by the hardliners is unlikely. Some Islamic militant groups have called for the establishment of a special court to try and expel liberal deputies.

Dilemma

The hardliners could also use the Council of Guardians to reject parliamentary bills. But that would create a constitutional crisis and a confrontation between parliament and the Council.

It appears that the conservatives are facing a big dilemma. After more than two decades of clerical rule in Iran, the forces for change are so strong that any attempt to block reforms could plunge the country into chaos.

In recent years Iran has witnessed many violent disturbances in the capital and other cities.

Most observers believe that the massive turnout on Friday and the overwhelming support for the reformists' platform is a strong message to the hardline clerics that their time is over and the country needs a fresh start.

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Full coverage of Iran's landmark elections and the battle for reform


Middle East Contents

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See also:
20 Feb 00 |  Middle East
US hails Iran vote
20 Feb 00 |  Middle East
Reformist prisoner released on leave
18 Feb 00 |  Middle East
Analysis: All eyes on Iran
18 Feb 00 |  Middle East
In pictures: Iran goes to the polls
11 Feb 00 |  Middle East
Khatami urges reformist landslide
17 Feb 00 |  Media reports
Iran's 'violent political game'
30 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Poll test for Iran reformists

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