Results so far in the second round of voting for Iran's new republican parliament suggest that Islamic fundamentalists once again are in the lead -- but have not done so well as they did in the first round.
The maintenance of the lead of the fundamentalist Islamic Republican Party (IRP), even if somewhat reduced, is hardly surprising. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had called on voters -- over 50 percent of them illiterate -- to cast their ballots for 100 percent Muslim candidates and to eschew those without Muslim credentials.
He counseled those who were not sure how to vote to consult their local Muslim clergy.
But at the same time, the Ayatollah has given his blessing to moves made by nonfundamentalist President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr apparently aimed to give him some insurance against being at the mercy of a parliament controlled by the IRP and its religious allies.
Ayatollah Khomeini acquiesced last week in Mr. Bani-Sadr's desire to appoint a prime minister before parliament convenes and to establish clear presidential control over both the armed forces and state radio and television.
Behind this paradox lie two constants:
1. Ayatollah Khomeini's desire to avoid an irrevocable split between forces that in his eyes were valid parties to the revolution that drawn-out -- and still unsuccessful -- efforts overthrew the Shah early last year. (These include the Muslim laity, like Mr. Bani-Sadr, but exclude the extreme left.)
2. The unflagging power struggle for control of republican Iran's new institutions in which the relentless personal ambitions of fundamentalist clerics and lay politicians are doing battle in the shade of the Ayatollah's umbrella.
Mr. Bani-Sadr was the Ayatollah's choice for the presidency. The patriarchal religious guardian of the country has directly endorsed him again by agreeing to the proposed moves to strengthen the President's hands. But the whole pattern of Ayatollah Khomeini's actions since Mr. Bani-Sadr became president has made it clear the religious leader has no intention of giving Mr. Bani-Sadr a blank check.
This was obvious throughout the long- [Text omitted from source] to resolve the crisis over the 53 US hostages, now into their seventh month of captivity.
The period since Nov. 4 last year, when the US Embassy in Tehran was overrun and the hostages seized, has seen developments in Iran's internal politics:
* A resurgence of the perhaps-flagging influence of the fundamentalists, who quickly turned the entire hostage issue to their advantage.
* A continued erosion -- at least in the public arena -- of the middle-of-the-road center, and a simultaneous sharpening of the polarization between religious fundamentalists and the left.
* The outbreak of violence between the fundamentalists and the left on university campuses during April, coupled with a resurgence of leftist-supported violence by the separatist Kurds.
* A lull in recent weeks in the violence between the fundamentalists and the left -- despite some isolated clashes on May Day -- because the United States attempt to rescue the hostages temporarily brought leftists and fundamentalists together in common outrage.
It is in this atmosphere that the second round of voting for the parliament has taken place -- with voting still being postponed in at least a score of electoral districts, mostly in Kurdish areas, because violence has made it impossible.
The second round itself had been postponed from an earlier date to give a commission of inquiry time to look into charges of irregularities in the first round.
In yet another wry touch, the second round finally went ahead May 9, even though the commission of inquiry into the alleged irregularities had not presented its report.