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Wednesday, 23 February, 2000, 23:46 GMT
Can the reformists hold together?

Mohammad Reza Khatami
The president's brother has emerged as a key figure


By Iranian affairs analyst Sadeq Saba

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

But the question now is whether the reformist deputies will be able to maintain their fragile unity.

The reformists who have won seats in the new parliament are members of a loose coalition of 18 political and professional groups, formed only three months ago.

Khatami poster Khatami's reforms have been blocked by hardliners
What brought them together was a common dislike of hard-line conservatives.

They also regard themselves as supporters of President Khatami's reform agenda.

The coalition is headed by the Islamic Iran Participation Front, which is the closest faction to Mr Khatami.

It also includes the Association of Combatant Clerics, the Workers' Union, the Organisation of Mujahedeen of Islamic Revolution, the main student organisation and the Servants of Construction Party.

Rafsanjani

In this coalition, there is basically a radical or left-wing trend represented by the Participation Front and a centrist trend represented by the Servants of Construction.

The Participation Front was founded about a year ago by a group of close associates of President Khatami, including his brother Dr Mohammad Reza Khatami.

Tehran vote Recording the reformist victory
The president is not an official member, but the group is seen as representing his views about the future development of Iran.

The Servants of Construction was formed about four years ago by a group of technocrats and government officials close to the former president, Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani.

He is seen as the political godfather of the group and several members of his family, including his daughter, Faeze Hashemi, are senior members.

Bickering

The coalition was thrown into disarray a few weeks before polling day by the decision of Mr Hashemi-Rafsanjani to stand in the elections with the backing of their conservative opponents.

Radical reformers opposed his candidacy, fearing the former president might boost the chances of conservatives in the elections.

Mr Rafsanjani Mr Rafsanjani is backed by conservatives
The centrists supported him wholeheartedly, and a period of open bickering engulfed the coalition, to the delight of their common rivals.

The divisions led the two reformist factions to produce two separate lists of candidates in Tehran and some other constituencies.

Freedoms

But this is not the only difference between the two trends in the reformist camp. The radicals put greater emphasis on democracy and freedoms.

They say that, in order to ensure economic development, there must exist the right political atmosphere in the country.

In their election manifesto, they promised new legislation to create more freedom for the press, to extend jury trials and to ease the country's strict censorship regulations of books and films.

The centrists, in contrast, stress that priority must be given to economic construction. They say ordinary people are more concerned about inflation, unemployment and education.

Balance of power

The divisions are also a reflection of two different approaches that President Khatami and his predecessor have taken in government.

The differences may resurface in the new parliament, where the threat of their common opponents is to some extent diminished.

The political affiliations of many of the new deputies is not quite clear. But it's believed that the radical reformers will have a majority and the centrists may hold the balance of power.

When some important issues are debated in parliament, the centrists may decide to vote with the conservatives.

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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:
22 Feb 00 |  Middle East
Iranian politics: A family affair
21 Feb 00 |  Middle East
Analysis: Obstacles to change
21 Feb 00 |  Middle East
Iran's hardliners at crossroads
22 Feb 00 |  Middle East
Iran vote welcomed

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