Sunday, February 08, 2004

Winding down?

It appears that the reformists in Iran have all but given up hope of seeing an actual election - that is, one in substance rather than mere form - take place on February 20.

On Thursday, the 80 reformist members of parliament banned by the reactionary Guardian Council from running for office ended their 26-day sit-in at the parliament building in what observers said amounted to an admission that they had failed in their goal of getting all of the 2000+ candidates barred by the Guardian Council reinstated.

Then on Friday, President Mohammad Khatami said in a letter to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that he will obey orders to hold legislative elections on February 20 as scheduled even though they would not be fair and people would have little motivation to vote. Parliament Speaker Mahdi Karroubi also signed the letter.

Khatami has blown hot and cold throughout the crisis. First he threatened to lead a mass government resignation, but then said he would stay and encouraged others to do the same. More recently, he vowed to hold elections only if they were "competitive, free and fair." Now, he's backed off on that as well, causing some to accuse him of causing rifts in the reformist camp.

While it's still possible that provincial governors will resign rather than conduct elections, with Khatami backing down again and the end of the sit-in, that appears to be only a distant possibility. What's more likely is that other reformers (and probably their supporters among the public) will join Iran's largest reformist party, Islamic Iran Participation Front, in boycotting the elections to deny them what legitimacy they can.

Footnote: Khamenei had ordered that a reformist-led ministry review the disqualifications, in what was seen as an attempt at compromise. But after the ministry reinstated about 600 candidates, the Guardian Council struck all but 51 names from the list. Which, it seems to me, adds importance to the question I raised Friday: Who is really in charge, Khamenei or the Guardian Council?

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