Change What to Whom?
By Alan Peters
Ten hours on Friday, February 20th, 2004, will define Irans new parliament members and throw Western governments into a dilemma beyond what they have faced till now with an anti-West clerical regime.
Some 5,000 survivors - from a starting field of around 8,000 candidates will vie in 207 constituencies in Irans Islamic Republic for the 290 Majliss (parliament) seats voted on by 46.3 million people over the age of 15-years from the 65 million strong population.
Some constituencies elect more than one Member of Parliament. Tehran, the capital, returns 30 and approved minority religions have five representatives: Jews and Zoroastrians with one each and three for Christian denominations.
If a candidate fails to win more than 25% of votes cast in the first round, voting will have to go to a second round after a month.
Sounds democratic till you realize that about 2,300 mostly Reformist candidates have been banned from taking part by the 12-man Guardian Council of hard line clerics the unelected and autocratic, de facto rulers of Iran - under Ayatollah Khamnei, whose veto power over everything, even legislation passed by the democratically elected Majliss allows him to do as he pleases.
Those banned from running for re-election, as being incompatible with required religious precepts, number 80 sitting members of parliament, among them President Khatamis brother, leader of the largest Reformist party and Deputy Speaker of the Majliss.
At last, the gloves have come all the way off in the struggle between hardliners and reformists. Already in February of 2003, the hardliners used their approval rights to validate favorable candidates and an apathetic voter turn out to win control of most municipalities in Iran. They now reach out for the final, total power of a rubber stamp Majliss to approve all they wish in a democratic fashion. And here comes the rub for the Western world.
The European Parliament recently adopted a resolution expressing regret at the "severe setback in efforts towards the establishment of democratic structures in Iran". It said "the lack of respect for democratic procedures may lead to a parliament unable to legitimize itself" and warned Iran could see its position in the international community weakened.
Without the fragile and basically fictitious excuse of dealing with a country claiming a democratically elected government, Europe and the USA will have to revise attitudes, policies and procedures toward Iran, though some say that dealing with rulers, who have the power and authority to implement matters to which they have agreed, looks attractive to some pragmatists in the various governments.
On the other hand, the likelihood of another Shia Islamic Republic in Iraq under the auspices of Ayatollah Sistani, which then forms an alliance with the Iranian Shia clerics in an anti-American and soon thereafter anti-Western partnership, may be enough to scare even the hardiest of those thinkers.
President Khatamis inability to conclude any meaningful reforms has opened him to criticism that the only effect his reform efforts have had, has been to legitimize Supreme Ruler Khamnei, who has been able to hide behind the existence of an elected parliament to continue to rule by decree albeit couched under the seal of the constitutional authority of the clerical Guardian Council.
And on Friday the 20th, Khatami has again fallen into the same trap. While Reformist members of parliament have tendered their resignations in advance of the impending fiasco, while several hundred more have withdrawn from the elections in protest, he has formed a movement of reformist clerics to take on the fight. And by fielding a team of any sort, prolongs the farce into which Iran has sunk, by creating the appearance of a democratically contested election.
With no emergent leader to whom to turn or follow either charismatically or philosophically the Iranian voters apathy extends to no longer being as willing to hit the streets in protest. Spiraling, sky rocketing prices of everything from food to shelter, increasingly demands a man hold down two or three jobs to pay for his familys daily bread, so politics, nowadays, drops far down the list of priorities. And theocratic despotism becomes an ever greater threat to the Western and secular world. firstname.lastname@example.org
I hope Iran will be free soon.
American firms 'seeking new Iran oil contracts'
16 February 2004
Gulf Daily News, Bahrain
Several American oil firms have voiced their interest in bidding for new oil contracts in Iran despite US sanctions designed to block foreign investment in the Islamic republic's petroleum sector, a top Iranian official was quoted as saying yesterday.
According to Mohammad Mohaddes, the head of the exploration division of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), the unnamed US firms expressed interest in tenders for 16 recently discovered oil blocks during a commercial forum last month in the Netherlands.
"At the forum, the frameworks of the contracts as well as technical and financial issues and execution of seismological surveys and drilling by the contractors were outlined," he was quoted as saying by the state news agency Irna.
"There is no problem on the side of Iran for the presence of American oil companies in these plans," he said, adding that firms had until until April 10 to buy tender documents and until July 10 to submit their bids for the 25-year contracts.
The 16 blocks are among 51 sites the country has discovered in recent years and intends to put out to tender.
But while US firms may be showing interest, few have been prepared to risk falling foul of Washington by investing in Iran.
In 1995, the then US president Bill Clinton prohibited US companies and their foreign subsidiaries from conducting business in Iran, and specifically any "contract for the financing of the development of petroleum resources located in Iran."
The US Iran-Libya Sanctions Act of 1996 imposes mandatory and discretionary sanctions on non-US companies investing more than $20 million annually in Iranian oil and gas. http://www.gulf-daily-news.com/Articles.asp?Article=74244&Sn=BUSI