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Monday, 21 February, 2000, 22:19 GMT
Iran's hardliners at crossroads

Iranian hardliners' demo
Hardliners face some soul-searching


By Baqer Moin of the BBC Persian Service

In Iran's first relatively free parliamentary election in 20 years, cities considered the bastion of rightwing forces have fallen one after another to the reformists.

It is a rude awakening for the conservatives.

This is the first election in which the younger generation of Iranian politicians has participated with vigour, bringing messages of freedom and reform.

Ayatollah Khamenei Ayatollah Khamenei: Undermined by his rightwing links
The conservatives have been in Iranian politics for over four decades.

They have organisational skills, financial resources, religious commitment and factional interests to promote.

They have captured most Iranian institutions, including the Assembly of Experts, which appoints the supreme leader, and the constitutional watchdog body, the Council of Guardians.

They still have a strong hold on the judiciary and strong ties with paramilitary forces, including the police.

iranian women Young people are fed up with restrictions on their lives
Within clerical institutions, a number of leading senior clergy also support the conservative cause.

Although they work in the name of Ayatollah Khomeini and his successor Ayatollah Khamenei, they have promoted their own factional interests.

This has been at the cost of alienating a large majority of the electorate with their isolationist foreign policy, and strict social and cultural policies such as the severe women's dress code and the joyless life for young people.

Soul-searching

The conservatives have not been alone in imposing their views. The radical left-wingers who had the upper hand for a decade under Ayatollah Khomeini were no angels either.

To some degree they faced a similar fate when they lost in the 1992 Majlis [parliamentary] elections.

Helped by former President, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the conservatives evicted the left from most revolutionary institutions.

Khatami posters Support for Khatami's reformers was overwhelming
The left-wingers, including President Khatami himself, began a period of soul-searching, self education and reflection, admitting their past misdeeds.

It was this period that brought the left-wingers into closer contact with the aspirations of the majority of Iranians, and it was then that the path of reform was chosen.

Reform

When the 1997 presidential election came, the left - now turned liberal reformists - were in a position to pull off a major victory headed by President Khatami.

The question now is whether the right will pursue the same model and begin revising their policies and approaches in order to return with vigour if President Khatami's policies come unstuck.

This would be the most obvious course of action if the right are to become a fully-fledged modern political force in Iran.

Iranian cleric at demo Conservative clerics face a dilemma
However, the temptation for the hardliners among the right-wingers is to use their institutional strength to create further obstacles for President Khatami's policies.

There are also those who argue that some of the extreme elements within the judiciary, security and paramilitary forces may in fact create a major crisis for the country similar to the Tehran University uproar last year, in the hope of crushing the reform movement.

However, even if this happens, it may only bring temporary respite for the extreme elements.

Undermined

The chances for reform now very much depend on how President Khatami, alongside parliament, handles the minority rightwing faction.

The country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has a key role to play in ensuring that those rightwing elements within the institutions under his command work within the constitutional framework.

The right-wingers have elevated him far above what was envisioned for him in the constitution.

This has not strengthened his position, but rather undermined him due to his association with the rightwingers.

The reformists do accept the supreme leader as a constitutional leader, but they want him to submit himself to constitutional supervision.

And they also realise the country has a sizeable rightwing force whose rights should be recognised.

It is now up to the rightwing forces to make the next move; whether to join constitutional politics or resort to extra constitutional campaigns.

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


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See also:
20 Feb 00 |  Middle East
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