Iran reformers hemmed in ahead of elections
Hard-liners consolidate their hold as March 14 parliamentary polls approach.
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With inflation at about 20 percent, Iranians have seen little result from the president's 2005 campaign promises to bring each family cash from oil wealth. Hard-liners count on 20 percent bedrock support, and while they call for a broad turnout to give legitimacy to each election, that often favors reformists.Skip to next paragraph
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"They were not rejected because they were reformists, but because [they were] proven not to believe in the Constitution or are disloyal to the Islamic system," says Hamidreza Taraghi, a senior conservative politician. "They can be in society, but they should not hold power."
Reformists are crying foul, and accuse conservatives of systematically blocking a reform comeback that many saw germinate in December 2006, when Ahmadinejad allies were trounced in elections for city councils and the Assembly of Experts – which has power to change the supreme leader.
A reformist victory in March would have been the next step in the reformist resurgence – perhaps leading to the presidency – if a pattern set by conservatives is a guide. Hard-liners clawed their way out of their political oblivion of the late 1990s, despite the popularity of Mr. Khatami, first by winning the Tehran city council vote in 2002, then recapturing the majlis in 2004.
For those whose "power has no limits, all over the world it's the same: they don't let go of it easily," says Fatemeh Karroubi, spokeswoman of the Popular Coalition of Reformists, the largest group of reform parties. "Unfortunately, we reformists let go of our power easily and now it is very hard to get it back."
The collapse of the once-powerful reform movement serves as a lesson to conservatives, too, as they try to unite for the vote. "Anytime a group or party has victory, it leads to factional splits," says Mehdi Chamran, a ranking conservative on Tehran's City Council. "We all know this danger. When we have disunity, we say: 'Look what happened to [reformists].' "
But the scale of disqualifications has confused Iranians, uncertain of their message. "We have 30 people sitting in parliament who have been rejected. If they are not qualified, what … are they doing there?" asks a conservative voter who asked not to be named. "If someone has been a vice minister and made big deals worth billions – after being qualified and serving the system for 30 years – what makes him suddenly not qualified? This is a very questionable fact."
Still, few reformists are likely to refuse to take part. "Experience has shown that any group that boycotts elections has been wiped from the political scene," says Mehran Karami, editor of the Kargozaran newspaper, which is close to former president Hashemi Rafsanjani. "So reformists never want to be outside the system completely. Even if they have one candidate, they should vote for him."
But gains are likely to be limited, as conservatives "will never allow themselves to lose a major election" again, says Iraj Jamshidi, political editor of Etemaad who was rejected as a candidate. He was not only rejected for being against the Islamic system but also denied for having a "bad reputation," a claim usually reserved for armed robbery, and for bothering neighbors, who he says told inspectors that he "values social manners."
"I've never been to a police station, either as a witness or a suspect," says Mr. Jamshidi. "Yet now I'm known for a 'bad reputation.' "