Iran Reformists' Leader Fears Crackdown in Wake of Election
February 16, 2004
The Financial Times
Mohammed Reza Khatami, general-secretary of Iran's largest reformist party and younger brother of president Mohammad Khatami, warned yesterday that a successful drive by conservatives to achieve high turnout in Friday's parliamentary elections could spark a crackdown on reformers.
Reformists are expected to lose control of the 290-seat national assembly, reflecting disenchantment among voters and the barring of 2,000 mostly reformist candidates by the Guardian Council, a constitutional watchdog. Mohammed Reza Khatami's Mosharekate (Participation Front) is boycotting the poll.
"[With a high turnout] we can expect more pressure. For example the judiciary may ban Mosharekate," he told the Financial Times. "If the turnout is below 30-40 per cent, this would be impossible." Mr Khatami's remarks underlined the difficulties facing the conservatives to motivate a largely disillusioned electorate.
"They are using all their power to bring people to vote," he said. "Forty per cent would not be a victory for them."
Just four years ago, Mr Khatami, then aged 40, topped the poll in Tehran with 2.2m votes. This time he is one of 67 sitting deputies from Mosharekate who are barred. "People will notice if whoever tops the list this time has just 500,000 votes," he said.
Electoral fraud was a clear danger, said Mr Khatami, who said the reformist-controlled intelligence ministry had warned of 30,000 fake voting papers. "Some say there are 2m forged identity cards," he added. But Mr Khatami predicted conservatives would not achieve the parliament they expected.
Only 50 of the 290 deputies would be "hardliners" and the rest would be "a spectrum right across to some radical reformers".
"The conservatives cannot reproduce their forces - if you look at their candidates, you cannot find a famous name," he said. "The new generation of conservatives is modern, and more reformist than their parents. We have talked to many of them and know their views."
As to his own party's future, Mr Khatami said it planned to use its absence from parliament to focus on grassroots organisation.
In the meantime, there would be many opportunities for the government - which remains accountable to President Khatami until presidential elections next year - to "deepen the gap between hardliners and conservatives" and so realign Iranian politics.
"My feeling is that parliament will not be decisive. The combat between the hardliners and the institutions of civil society will become more important than the conflict in parliament."
Looking back over the four weeks since the Guardian Council announced the banning of candidates and prompted a protest parliamentary sit-in by 80 deputies, Mr Khatami was mildly critical of his brother and of Mahdi Karroubi, the parliamentary speaker.
"They were more optimistic than us," he said. "They thought only 10 deputies and 100-200 other well-known candidates would be disqualified . . . And also, because of their positions, they cannot say everything that we can."
Mr Khatami stressed the wide "improvements" in Iran after seven years of reform. "It is important not to lose all these achievements," he said. http://news.ft.com/servlet/ContentServer?pagename=FT.com/StoryFT/FullStory&c=StoryFT&cid=1075982561271&p=1012571727172