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In Iran, hopes for democracy dwindle

Reformers dispirited as candidates registered for parliamentary vote.

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"[Council members] live simply, are highly educated, have low salaries and work 16 to 17 hours a day," he says. "In a word, they are only working for God's satisfaction. The people are looking for these kinds of people, and we hope they find what they want."

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But the Tehran council result is taken as a dangerous example by reformists, who decry the council efforts to turn some cultural centers into mosques.

"People must realize what will happen if they don't go to the ballot box, and what they will lose, even if they have been critical of reforms," says Morad Veisi, chief editor of Yas-e-No, the main newspaper of the IIPF, which has been operating for nine months, and regularly publishes details of prison conditions of its activists.

A coalition between moderates in the new majlis is "not possible, because we have fundamental differences," says Mr. Veisi. "Where in that concept is the people's vote? The conservatives don't care if people come to vote or not, and that is dangerous."

Indeed, some say Iran's current political dynamic is far from the ideals of justice and democracy that were to have been restored in Iran by the 1979 revolution.

"[Current leaders] are not fulfilling the promises of the first days of the revolution," says Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, once the chosen successor of the leader of the revolution, Imam Khomeini, who was released from house arrest in January, after five years, for questioning the divine right to rule.

"The Guardian Council is also radical, and following factionalism," says Mr. Montazeri, in an interview in Iran's religious center of Qom. The council was designed to ensure that laws are "not against Islam," but "now it manages the candidates, and is doing the opposite of what it was supposed to do."

While candidates are due to be vetted in coming weeks, several reform deputies have already been attacked by vigilantes. In one case this month, some 15 thugs in the central city of Yazd beat and kicked close presidential aide Mohsen Mirdamadi, the head of parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee.

Voices from across Iran's political spectrum condemned the attack.

Vice President Mohamad Ali Abtahi told the Associated Press that it was a "new strategy on the part of hard-liners to intimidate reformers...ahead of elections. They have taken up arms now." He later said the perpetrators were "part of the system."

"They are criminals...and wild wolves," says Grand Ayatollah Saanei, a ranking reformist cleric, and former head of the judiciary under Khomeini, during an interview in Qom. Mr. Saanei says Islam and democracy are an "exact" fit, though "it needs a lot of time, because all those people in theological schools do not think the same way."

Mr. Shariatmadari, the conservative editor, says he is in no doubt that the reform camp itself engineered the vigilante attack on Mr. Mirdamadi - not the shadowy hardline pressure groups usually blamed for disrupting reform gatherings.

"It is clear: the result is the result that [reformists] badly needed," Shariatmadari says.

"Instead of giving an explanation of their performance, and why they have produced nothing, [for them] it is better to talk about this incident."

Even if reformers fade at the polls, Ayatollah Moussavi Tabrizi, a reformist cleric in Qom, says their influence is still palpable. The most hard-line institutions, such as the judiciary, have been forced by the wave of reformist popularity to improve, he says.

"Of course, we have a long way to go to fulfill these ideals," the ayatollah adds. "We must do something so that people don't tire of politics - they need to be on the scene."