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Post Election News
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posted June 11, 2001 14:06
Iran's President Wins Mandate to Push Reform
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR with NAZILA FATHI The New York Times
Election returns in Iran gave President Mohammad Khatami the clear victory deemed crucial to revive his
CAIRO, June 9 Election returns in Iran today gave President Mohammad Khatami the thumping victory that supporters say he needs to revive his drive for greater democracy and social freedom in the Islamic Republic.
Preliminary results released by the Interior Ministry today, with 23 million votes, or more than half the electorate, counted, showed Mr. Khatami winning nearly 18 million votes, or more than 76 percent.
The closest of his nine rivals, Ahmed Tavakoli, a former labor minister, had slightly more than 3.5 million votes, some 15 percent. The remaining candidates scored far smaller percentages.
The huge turnout on Friday belied predictions that Iranian voters would stay home, disillusioned because Mr. Khatami's promised reforms were bogged down in conservative hostility.
Reformists said they hoped that his opponents would respond to what they called the clear message from Iranians that they want change and are weary of the shadow government the unelected Guardian Council and the judiciary overriding the president and Parliament.
"What the reform movement wants to do in the next four years is to strengthen the democratic basis of society," said Ahmad Bourghani, a reformist member of Parliament. "The aim is not victory over another faction, the aim is to strengthen the rules of democracy."
Even with such an overwhelming landslide, though, pushing change will probably remain a struggle. The conservatives have proved wedded to the pervasive control guaranteed for various shadowy institutions established by the revolution and have been loath to concede any ground.
There was already squabbling over the election returns.
The Guardian Council, a group of 12 clerics and Islamic lawyers who screen candidates and legislation and must ultimately approve the election results, suggested that there had been "numerous irregularities" in the election, including lost ballots.
The Interior Ministry, which supports Mr. Khatami and organized the election, vehemently denied any such problems. In previous elections the Guardian Council used its power to annul hundreds of thousands of votes. Mr. Khatami, who had yet to declare victory today, has also been circumspect about exactly how he will carry out changes in the face of undiluted conservative opposition.
In a rare interview, Zohreh Sadeqi, Mr. Khatami's wife, said the president expected his second term to be more difficult than the first.
"The past four years were very difficult, but Mr. Khatami says the next four years will be even tougher because of what he is going to do," she told the women's magazine Zanan.
Even before the campaign, limited by law to 20 days, Mr. Khatami expressed reluctance to continue for another four years. He waited until the last minute to declare his candidacy and wiped away tears as he did it, saying he would rather be doing something else.
At a news conference last Tuesday, only the second of his presidency, he said that he had three main goals: to reform the administrative structure, to reform the economy and to establish a civil society.
"I am sure we must try to move patiently and moderately," he said, conceding that he had probably not matched the soaring expectations that followed his 1997 victory. That year he emerged from the relatively obscure job of head of the National Library to capture 70 percent of the vote.
"There might have been expectations that were not compatible with the realities," Mr. Khatami said at his news conference.
During his first term he did succeed in widening the boundaries of debate and in pushing the idea that reform was essential. Every candidate in this election felt the need to express support for reform.
And voters, even the ones who recognized that Mr. Khatami was pushing reform only within the confines of the Islamic system, want him to forge ahead. Supporters hope a huge margin will give him both the political and mental edge needed to be more forceful in pushing reform.
There might have been some disappointment with his record, but he remains the best reformer they have. "I do not mean to say he is a perfect choice, but he is the best out of the other candidates," said Reza, a 53-year old businessman, who gave only his first name. "What other alternative do we have? We have to struggle, to do something to improve the situation."
Mr. Khatami's support has always been widest among the young and women, the two groups who find strict Islamic laws most confining. He is believed to have been especially popular among the nearly six million voters who reached the age of 16 since the last election and cast ballots for the first time.
Today, the headquarters of an organized group of first-time voters distributed flowers and played music on a downtown Tehran square, tying up traffic.
The conservative camp did not comment on the outcome. They even avoided naming a candidate directly out of fear of the electoral thrashing he would receive.
Candidates identified as conservatives did try to accuse Mr. Khatami of poor economic policy, citing an unemployment rate officially put around 15 percent but believed to be far higher.
In general, the conservatives accuse the Khatami administration of using the excuse of political development to try to undermine the legacy of the 1979 Islamic revolution forged under the leadership of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
The imam, as he is known, established the system concentrating power in the hands of a supreme leader, now the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who can overrule all other branches of government and controls the security forces.
"Is it political development to defame the prominent and well-known faces of the Islamic revolution and support the Westernized political dwarfs that never tasted the hardships of revolution?" the conservative newspaper Resalat wrote in a pre-election editorial.
The paper was also dismissive of Mr. Khatami's supporters, at one point describing a group of "women and girls wearing repulsive dresses."
Women's clothing has been one of the battlegrounds between the two camps, with the Khatami administration permitting less severe covering including flowing head scarves, short coats and open-toed sandals. The display of something like toenail polish a few years ago would have brought arrest and flogging by the morals police, who have now largely disappeared.
Other aspects of the fight between the two sides over the past four years included the murders of reformists by death squads, the shuttering of more than 40 publications and jail sentences for dozens of reformists. At the same time, new publications have opened and the jailed reformists publish books from their cells.
posted June 11, 2001 14:11
Iran's Khatami Urged to Use Landslide for Reform
By Firouz Sedarat
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Reformist commentators in Iran urged President Mohammad Khatami (news - web sites) Monday to use his huge mandate to push for swifter reforms in his second term but conservative newspapers continued to voice defiance.
The president and the next government should make a critique of the past four years and move fearlessly to implement political, economic and social reforms with the support of the people,'' the pro-reform daily Norouz said.
``It is time for those who have effectively stood in the people's way by opposing reforms to...engage in criticism instead of revenge,'' the daily said, referring to hard-liners who largely blocked Khatami's reforms in his first term.
Khatami, promising to press ahead with efforts to reform the Islamic Republic, was re-elected with 77 percent of the vote on Friday. The leading conservative candidate came a distant second with 15.6 percent.
The reformist-dominated parliament re-elected pro-Khatami cleric Mehdi Karroubi as speaker Monday and Mohammad Reza Khatami, the president's brother and head of the main reformist group, as deputy speaker.
During Khatami's first mandate hard-line-led courts cracked down on his reform program by closing some 40 pro-reform newspapers, jailing several of Khatami's allies and arresting dozens of liberal Islamist dissidents.
The conservative daily Qods downplayed its hard-liners' defeat, stressing that voters had primarily expressed confidence in the Islamic system by going to the polls.
``The popular turnout in the election was in fact a new sign of loyalty to the Islamic Republic and its constitution.
``Enemies of the revolution and their local lackeys should have realized now that their analysis was unfounded,'' Qods said, referring to calls by exiled groups for a boycott of the polls.
The conservative daily Resalat warned that Khatami might face more strong opposition from hard-liners, who still hold key levers of power, if he persisted in pushing for reforms without the approval of opponents.
``We expect the government to refrain from past factional attitudes in naming and dismissing officials while carrying out its policies,'' a Resalat editorial said.
The reformist daily Hayat-e No noted that one-third of an electorate of 42 million voters had stayed away and suggested conservatives might be responsible for voter apathy.
``Were those who did not vote people who had become disenchanted because of the constant opposition of conservatives to reforms during the past four years?'' it asked.
NO FOREIGN POLICY CHANGES SEEN
The Foreign Ministry said Khatami would continue his efforts to ease regional tensions and open Iran to the world.
``The government's policies are based on the same principles as in the past four years but will have greater speed thanks to popular support,'' spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters.
Asefi reiterated that any improvement in ties with the United States would require the removal of U.S. sanctions.
Asefi declined to comment on reports that Washington was seeking a two-year extension of sanctions banning investment in Iran's oil industry instead of the planned five-year renewal.
``This has not been officially confirmed. We have to wait and see if this is true,'' he said.
Celebrations of Khatami's victory have been subdued because of a show of force by the hard-line-led police after results were announced Saturday night.
``(People) should realize that they still have a heavy price to pay for a smile,'' Norouz said.
Scuffles broke out between celebrating Khatami supporters and police in Tehran and dozens were arrested in other cities.
The pro-labor reformist daily Kar va Kargar cautioned that more trouble lay ahead for Khatami.
``There is still a long and hard way ahead because those who can only protect their interests by violating the constitution are bound to continue to do so,'' it said.
posted June 11, 2001 14:13
U.S. Hopes for Reform After Iran Vote -- U.S. Aide
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States welcomes the re-election victory of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami (news - web sites) and hopes for further reforms, a senior U.S. official said on Sunday.
``We have to welcome the results in Iran and continue to hope for reform,'' said the official.
Khatami won by a landslide in Friday's elections. The victory was seen as boosting his standing in a long-running struggle against hard-liners who see his reforms as a threat to religious and revolutionary values and their own grip on power.
``We continue to worry about Iran's international behavior, (however) you have to be hopeful,'' the U.S. official said.
U.S. officials said last week that even if Khatami were reelected, a major new gesture of rapprochement with Tehran was unlikely any time soon.
The two countries remain deeply estranged more than two decades after the Iranian revolution that overthrew the U.S.-allied Shah.
The United States has said closer ties with Iran would depend on the country ending its active hostility to Arab-Israeli peace efforts, its alleged support for ``terrorist'' groups, its missile program and alleged efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction.
Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons or supporting terrorism and says it is not alone in opposing what it regards as U.S. bias toward Israel and unfairness to the Palestinians.
posted June 11, 2001 14:18
Khatami Vows To 'Deepen Democracy'
By BRIAN MURPHY, Associated Press Writer
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - President Mohammad Khatami promised Sunday to heed his supporters' demands for ``freedom and after his landslide re-election victory, as his legions of backers awaited his next move to challenge Iran's ruling hard-line Muslim clerics.
There were high expectations expressed among Iranians and in the media that Khatami was planning major shake-ups among his top economic and advisers. The goal would be a more competent team that is less under the influence of the conservatives.
But it may not be easy. The hard-liners may resist having their influence reduced in the president's inner circle - providing the first key test for dueling forces: Khatami's huge popularity and the clerics' near-complete hold on the levers of power.
Khatami took 76.9 percent of the vote in Friday's election, surpassing the strength of the 70 percent groundswell that carried him to office four years ago.
On Sunday, Khatami pledged to heed the election's message, led by Iran's overwhelming bloc of young voters.
``People showed their commitment to the real meaning of religion and demands for freedom and justice,'' he said at a Tehran mosque to mark the birthday of the Muslim prophet Mohammad. ``Now, establishment of Islamic democracy has turned into a shining model.''
``The need of the moment and the future is to stabilize and deepen democracy and realize the rights of the people alongside religion,'' he was quoted by the official Islamic Republic News Agency as saying earlier.
The hard-liners, for the moment, had little choice but to swallow the defeat at the polls.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the nation's uncontested religious and political authority, urged Khatami's critics to ``avoid any that may damage national unity.''
All authorities are highly nervous about ideological divisions spilling over into violence. In 1999, riots erupted between pro-reform students and vigilantes in the most serious clashes in Tehran since the 1979 Islamic revolution toppled the U.S.-backed monarchy.
Conservative clerics appointed by Khamenei control the main institutions in the nation - including the judiciary, the police and the army - and have them during Khatami's first four-year term to stymie many reforms. Liberal activists have been arrested, and many pro-reform newspapers down.
Khatami's strongest weapon has been his popularity. Khatami, a mid-rank and former culture minister, envisions an ``Islamic democracy'' with greater personal freedoms, more accountable authorities and increased contacts with Western businesses and governments.
In the latest election, Khatami's 21.6 million votes exceeded the 20 million-vote benchmark from 1997. But turnout was lower: about 68 percent compared with nearly 90 percent.
The formalities to install Khatami for his second - and final - four-year term should take about two months. Meanwhile, supporters anticipate an of Khatami's cabinet - particularly to deal with the nation's deep economic woes.
``He has no choice but to have clear and unified thinking on his economic team,'' said Saeed Neylaz, who covers politics for the reformist Nowrooz. ``The landslide win brought a heavy responsibility. He doesn't have the option for trial and error anymore.''
Iran's economy is ailing despite its oil and gas fields. Foreign investors are wary and unemployment may approach 30 percent. Most major enterprises are controlled by tax-exempt groups linked to the ruling clerics.
Meanwhile, a helicopter sent to a remote village in central Iran to carry back ballot boxes crashed Saturday, killing all nine people on board, IRNA reported.
posted June 12, 2001 10:35
The ball is now in the court of Mr. Ali Khameneh'i
PARIS 11 June (IPS) With Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Khatami officially declared victorious in the eighth Iranian president elections held Friday, analysts are turning their attention to the "landslide defeat" of the conservatives, despite having dispatched to the race course nine of their stalwarts.
According to the last official results given by the Interior Ministry and reported by the official news agency IRNA, Mr. Khatami got 21,656,476 of the votes, followed by: Ahmad Tavakoli 4,387,112 (15.6 percent); Ali Shamkhani 737,051 (2.6 percent); Abdollah Jasbi 259,759 (0.9 percent); Mahmud Kashani 237,660 (0.8 percent); Hassan Ghafuri-Fard 129,155 (0.5 percent); Mansur Razavi 114,616 (0.4 percent); Shahabeddin Sadr 60,546 (0.2 percent) Ali Fallahian 55,225 (0.2 percent); Mostafa Hashemi-Taba 27,949 (0.1 percent)
But the ministry made a radical downward revision of turnout figures, saying just 67 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots Friday, after reporting early Saturday that 83 percent had done so.
Another immediate conclusion is that all the nine conservatives-backed candidates got together more or less the same percentage as the conservatives scored in the past elections.
The third is the devastating blow dealt to Hojjatoleslam Ali Falahian, the former Intelligence Minister who, in the eyes of Iranians, is responsible for the murder of hundreds Iranian political and intellectual dissidents.
By taking part in the elections, Mr. Fallahian wanted to give himself a face-lift. But the Iranians slapped him badly.
The result shows that at least one third of the 42 millions electorate did not took part in the exercise, against a mere five millions in the previous elections.
Though Mr Khatami scored 77 per cent of the votes, up from 70 per cent he got in the 1997 race, yet, considering the increase in the number of the voters, his score is lower compared to the precedent one.
Nevertheless, even as such, he has become the first Iranian president to increase his votes from previous elections, against both Ayatollah Ali Khamenehe'i and Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani that got much less votes in the second terms.
Several analysts attributed variously the important absenteeism as a "vote of no confidence", a "protest vote", lack of interest, (as Mr. Khatami's being re-elected was a forgone conclusion) and the result of the appeals by opposition organisations and personalities to boycott the elections.
Now that the Iranians once again rejected the conservatives, it remains to see whether their leader, Mr. Khamenehe'i, will draw any lesson from this new bitter defeat by giving the president more manoeuvring room or would continue his systematic opposition to the reforms process.
Some analysts made a comparison between the attitude of the British conservatives, whose leader resigned immediately after their defeat in the Thursday parliamentarian elections and that of the Iranians who, despite two successive humiliations, continue to clinch to power, an instrument they pretend to have received from God, not the people.
Mr. Abbas Salimi Namin, the Editor of the pro-conservative English language daily "Tehran Times" believes that the conservatives would, this time, review the reasons of their continued defeat and prepare themselves for a come back via ballot boxes.
A colleague confirmed his view. "If Mr. Khatami tries elevating his government from a factional government to a national one, I believe the conservatives are prepared for co-operation", said Mr. Amir Mohebian, a senior columnist at "Resalat". "On the other hand, the conservatives are very seriously trying to reorganise their own camps to try to get closer to public opinion", he added.
Supporters of Mr. Khatami and reform process have the same wish, hoping that the conservatives have heard the voice of the people and would take a backbench.
They also hope that with the ballot boxes having talked loud and clear, Mr. Khamenehe'i would help the situation return to normal, by authorising some, if not all, the banned papers reappear and order the release of the imprisoned journalists and Islamist-nationalists.
In fact, the fundamentalist Khameneh'i will play an important role in determining the path Mr. Khatami will be allowed to pursue the reforms, for, as the leader, he concentrates all powers in his hands.
For Mr. Mehdi Khalaji, a former member of "Entekhab", the moderate pro-conservative daily, the conservatives repeated their previous mistakes, as, besides lacking political courage and honesty, they continued to spoke about the past with a population that looks more and more to the future as is helped by new technologies of communications.
"They deserve to be labelled as shameful conservatives, as they refused to present an official candidate while fielding nine unofficial ones who, in turn, would present themselves as independent. The voters did not liked such manners, nor did they accepted the values defended by the conservatives", he commented.
In the absence of any reaction from conservative's tenors, except Mr. Khamenehe'i who congratulated the Iranians for the "firm support" they expressed for Islam and the Islamic Republic, mouthpieces in the press like "Resalat" and "Siasat Rooz" just ignored the massive votes given to Mr. Khatami.
In a message addressed to the Iranian nation, Ayatollah Khameneh'i praised them for their "sincere defence of the Islamic system", saying their turnout in the election had neutralized the enemy plots, aimed at discouraging the people from voting.
"Once more, you insisted on not heeding the demands of the hegemonic and interfering powers which were trying to discourage the nation from attending ballot boxes," he told Iranians in the message.
In his first post-election, victory speech, Mr. Khatami said, "What is necessary for us, today and in the future, is to strengthen the democratic system and to protect the people's rights within a religious framework. It is also vital for us to recognize and define our economic priorities and needs as well as solving the society's major concerns through correct and appropriate planning".
"The journey on the road which has been paved by the people's wishes can only be completed through their vigilance", Mr. Khatami further reiterated.
"The urgent demand of today and tomorrow is to instil and deepen republicanism, give back the legitimate rights of the people in line with the (Islamic) religion, identify priorities in the economic field and solve basic problems of the society under a prudent agenda", he observed.
"The real victory is that the nation has strived to present a right and just model of a civil society based on religion and morality alongside democracy and freedom", he said, adding that "patience, moderation and prudence" as well as "commitment to the ideals of the Islamic Revolution" were needed as prerequisites to sort out social problems of the country and meet public demands.
"An open and healthy legal atmosphere; freedom of speech and criticism, even protest as long as it is within the legal framework; protection of this climate and efforts to strengthen it, are the prerequisites for a quicker and greater victory", Mr. Khatami reminded.
His second victory triggered jubilation throughout Iran, where residents in several cities distributed sweets and cheered slogans in his support.
It was to prevent such demonstrations that the leader-controlled Radio and Television withhold until well after midnight the broadcast of the final results.
In the religious city of Qom, some 2000 pro-Khatami supporters went to the residence of Grand Ayatollah Hoseinali Montazeri, chanting "Long live Khatami, Long live Montazeri", before clashing with security men.
Mr. Montazeri, the highest Iranians and Shi'as religious authority, is living under house arrest conditions since October 1997 after he strong criticised Ayatollah Khamenehe'I for both his interferences in the affairs of the president and his lavish lifestyle.
In Mash-had, another religious centre, Law Enforcement Forces arrested 30 young demonstrators who were cheering the victory of Mr. Khatami
Citizens in western city of Ilam, near the Iraqi border, spilled to streets, as car drivers honked their horns, prompting traffic to come to a standstill.
In southern city of Marvdasht, near Shiraz, many youth waved pictures of Khatami and marched through the streets.
Emirs of Bahrain and Qatar, and the Sultan of Oman as well as some European leaders congratulated Mr. Khatami over his re-election.
A Russian foreign ministry official on Saturday welcomed Khatami's victory, saying it "lends confidence that the course of comprehensive cooperation between Russia and Iran declared during Khatami's visit to Moscow in the spring will be continued."
A spokesman for the US State Department said the victory of President Khatami is the expression of the will of Iranians for democracy, independence and freedoms.
Morocco's King Mohammed VI congratulated Mohammad Khatami for his re-election, saying "I am taking this happy occasion to reiterate... my determination to work with you to strengthen the brotherly Islamic ties and fruitful cooperation which unites our two peoples," the king said in the statement.
posted June 12, 2001 10:38
King Fahd salutes Khatami on a "crushing" win
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia, June 11 (AFP) - Saudi King Fahd has congratulated Iranian President Mohammad Khatami upon his re-election by a "crushing majority", the Saudi Press Agency said Monday. "The Iranian people have given (you) their confidence to advance down the path of reform and progress," the message said.
Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz also sent his congratulations to Khatami and his hopes that Iranians will enjoy "greater prosperity under the leadership" of the president.
Relations between Riyadh, a close ally of Washington, and Tehran have warmed considerably since Khatami was first elected in 1997. He visited the kingdom in May 1999 marking an end to a climate of suspicion which followed Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.
The two Persian Gulf neighbours in April signed an agreement to fight crime, terror and money-laundering.
posted June 12, 2001 10:44
Gulf Arabs look to Khatami to woo 'Great Satan'
By Miral Fahmy
DUBAI, June 11 (Reuters) - Iran's re-election of President Mohammad Khatami will help bolster ties with Gulf Arab states but the moderate leader must act on his reformist intentions to turn his wary neighbours into friends.
Leaders from oil kingpin Saudi Arabia to the tiny island state of Bahrain have congratulated the moderate Khatami on his landslide victory, indicating they want to put an end to Iran's historical status as the "demon of the Gulf".
But analysts say a breakthrough in relations hinges on an improvement in Iran's ties with the Gulf states' ally, the United States, and the resolution of a dispute over three strategic islands Gulf Arabs say Iran has seized from the United Arab Emirates.
"The whole region is much more relaxed that a regime that is more liberal and open is now in Iran," said Nayef Obeid, analyst at the UAE-based Sheikh Zaid Centre for Strategic Studies.
"The Gulf is looking to Khatami to live up to his image as a reformist and to improve ties but they will be primarily looking for actions and not words on these two fronts," he told Reuters.
IRAN'S TIES WITH U.S. KEY
Gulf states are hoping that Khatami's election by 77 percent of Iranian voters on Friday will empower him to change Iranian policy despite opposition from the conservative clerics who control the security forces and the judiciary.
Iranian officials expect Khatami to use his second term to cozy up to the United States, long vilified as the "Great Satan", and analysts say this could pave the way for better ties with the Gulf, which relies on the U.S. military for protection.
"We can't look at the Iranian-Gulf relations without the United States," said London-based commentator Hazem Saghiyeh.
"If there is a breakthrough with the United States then we will see this reflected in the Gulf."
Twenty-two years after Islamic revolutionaries overthrew the U.S.-backed shah and held 52 U.S. diplomats hostage for more than a year, Iranian conservatives and liberals are keen to establish equal, normal ties with Washington.
Tehran has made recent overtures to the United States, although its active support for the fight against Washington's ally Israel remains the main obstacle to bilateral relations.
This impediment has however helped bring Iran closer to Gulf Arabs who are furious at Israel, and at the United States, for their handling of a Palestinian independence uprising that erupted last September.
"The Intifada to a certain extent has got Iranians and Gulf Arabs seeing eye-to-eye on a political issue," a Gulf-based Western diplomat said.
ISLANDS AT CENTRE OF STORM
Since taking office in 1997, Khatami has built bridges to traditional foes such as Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia, which backed Iraq in its 1980-88 war with Shi'ite Muslim Iran.
Riyadh and Tehran signed a bilateral security pact in April. Saudi Arabia has repeatedly refused to blame Iran for a 1996 bombing that killed 19 U.S. servicemen, even though Tehran is a staunch opponent of the presence of U.S. troops in the Gulf.
Analysts say warmer relations between the two Gulf superpowers are the key to improving Iran's ties with the rest of the region.
Riyadh is also best placed to mediate over the three islands that are controlled by Iran and claimed by the UAE.
"Once the issue of the islands is resolved, Iran will be embraced as a full-fledged member of the Gulf," a senior UAE official said. "Iran has to start looking at countries in the region as equal partners and treat them as such."
FEARS OF HEGEMONY
But decades of mistrust still hamper better ties.
Gulf Arabs are still concerned by Iran's military might and its alleged pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Some fear that Tehran's ultimate goal is to become the region's policeman.
"Iran is a big country and it worries its neighbours just like a big, muscular person would," Obeid said.
"President Khatami has to help the Gulf get over its concern about Iran's military capability and reassure them that it is seeking equal ties, and not a hegemony over the region."
posted June 13, 2001 09:57
Taking It To The Streets
Khatami supporters and the hardline militia clash on the streets of Tehran
June 12, 2001
TEHRAN - It was an election that came alive after dark. On Friday voting stations around the country extended their hours three times. At midnight, people still lined the streets waiting to cast the ballots that secured President Mohammed Khatami a second landslide victory with 77% of the vote. On Saturday results were in by nightfall, and thousands of Iranians turned Vali-Asr Street, Tehran's main drag, into a celebratory carnival - a cacophony of honking horns and blaring music, threaded with young people licking ice cream cones, holding hands and dancing with glee. "Anyone who cares about Iran and about freedom voted for him yesterday," exclaimed Ghazal Ibrahimi, 17, as she rhythmically blared her horn in stalled traffic.
But further north along the tree-lined avenue, the atmosphere became more tense - drivers rolled up their windows, pulled over to peel the Khatami posters off their cars, and the horn symphony was replaced first by eerie silence, then by the gunning of motorcycles. Near Mellat Park, the windows of cars bearing Khatami posters were smashed in as hardline Islamic militia groups chased young people with batons, whips and clubs in an attempt to stop the celebration. In the space of a few hundred meters, the street party was transformed into street clashes.
The militia, called Ansar-e-Hezbollah, came down the avenue in waves - cars containing Khatami supporters were surrounded by bearded men standing shoulder to shoulder, clutching batons and whips and chanting the name of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Their intimidation tactics ranged from vicious facial contortions, kicking car doors and threats of breaking out their tear gas. There was little uncertainty over who had unleashed the militia. "Who's sent them out here? Those who lost this election, who have no national or religious values," said Mehrdad Badami, a university student, who proceeded to shout "Khatami, we love you!" as he drove his motorcycle through a crowd of militiamen.
Eventually riot police armed with plastic shields arrived to restore order, forming a human barricade along the entrance to the park and beating back the militiamen in a rare show of official force. Hardline militias are typically permitted to operate freely and are accountable only to the hardline Revolutionary Guard and the Supreme Leader. "Why aren't you hitting them?" demanded one riot policeman of another, as the militamen looked on dumfounded. Until early morning, the riot police and the militia rumbled back and forth while civilians scrambled out of the way. Whispering into their mobile phone head-pieces, the militiamen attempted to regroup, but riot police chased them down side alleys and into the small stream that lines the avenue. Broken glass and trampled flowers littered the street. "I don't understand how we're supposed to feel," sniffed Parisa Ramazani, 22, as she surveyed the shattered window of her small white car. "Are we being punished for making our voices heard?"
Two young men approached her, ostensibly to offer help, but Ramazani quickly drove away - their freshly shaven faces and awkward demeanour a dead giveaway of militiamen posing as pro-reform youth. In response to being asked the purpose behind the evening's crackdown, one scarcely bothered to pretend: "I got a phone call that said, 'People keep dancing here in the streets and we're tired of beating them up. Could you come give us a hand?'" The louder the victory, it seems, the harsher the crackdown.
posted June 13, 2001 10:00
Police disperse Khatami's supporters outside Montazeri's residence
BBC Monitoring Service
Text of report from the "For your information" column, published by Iranian newspaper Jomhuri-ye Eslami web site on 11 June
Following the announcement of the result of presidential elections on Sunday evening [10 June], a group of youths gathered outside Mr Khatami's election campaign headquarters in Qom to celebrate his victory.
The youth began whistling and clapping while marching towards Safa'iyeh Street. They arrived at a square linking the street to the city's orbital road. They stopped in this square for a while and then returned to the elections headquarters.
On the way back they continued whistling and clapping and chanting such slogans as "Khatami you are our hero and you are the hope of the young generation", "Khatami we support you", "Khatami we love you" and "the tanks and artillery of the Basij are no longer effective".
The movement of these people along Safa'iyeh Street blocked the traffic flow and led to heavy traffic in the nearby Eram Avenue. The individuals then began marching towards Mr Montazeri's residence in Safa'iyeh Street. [dissident Ayatollah Hoseyn Ali Montazeri was dismissed by Khomeyni as his successor. He now lives under house arrest in Qom. Montazeri's remarks, criticizing excess of the Islamic regime is published by opposition papers abroad] The youth gathered outside Mr Montaezri's house.
At this point the special forces took action and forced them to flee. The Law-Enforcement Force tried hard to establish order.
Eventually by 2300 at night all the demonstrators were dispersed and peace was restored. However after 2300, a convoy of motor cyclists drove across the city while blowing their horns. They were carrying Mr Khatami's posters to celebrate his victory. The convoy, comprising about 100 to 150 motor cyclists of various age groups, were roaming across the city until about one o'clock in the morning.
The Law-Enforcement personnel blocked the road linking the Holy Shrine [of Imam Reza's sister] and the traffic police department in order to control the situation. Throughout this period Mr Khatami's election campaign headquarters was closed and there was no-one there to answer enquirers.
posted June 13, 2001 10:22
Four more years for what?
RFE/EL Iran Report
11 June 2001,
President Mohammad Khatami rejected calls that the 8 June election would be a "referendum on reform" three days before the polls opened, but he also vowed that he would stick to the path of reform, saying "reforms are accepted by all and everyone calls for reforms and Islamic democracy." But now that he has been elected, both his plans and his ability to carry them out remain unclear.
In order to reinforce the mandate for reform, Khatami supporters optimistically expected that he would get as many if not more votes than the 20 million he received in 1997. They hoped for 25 million votes, according to "Time Magazine," while others, such as parliamentarian Ahmad Burqani, feared that he would get no more than 16-17 million votes.
In the end, according to the pro-Khatami Interior Ministry, 21,656,476 (77.88 percent) people voted for Khatami. Ahmad Tavakoli was the runner-up with 4,387,112 votes (15.61 percent), followed by Ali Shamkhani (737,051 votes, 2.62 percent). Then came Abdullah Jasbi (259,759 votes, 0.92 percent), Mahmud Kashani (237,660 votes, 0.84 percent), Hassan Ghafuri-Fard (129,155 votes, 0.46 percent), Mansur Razavi (114,616 votes, 0.41 percent), Shahabedin Sadr (60,546 votes, 0.22 percent), Ali-Akbar Fallahian-Khuzestani (55,225 votes, 0.20 percent), and Mustafa Hashemi-Taba (27,949 votes, 0.10 percent).
Public enthusiasm in the run-up to election day appeared lacking, and Khatami's lackluster campaigning, his failure to visit the provinces, and his repetition of the same old cliches did not help the situation. Tehran journalist Fariborz Gharib told RFE/RL's Persian Service, "There is a stagnant feeling in the society. Along with the campaign posters there also is written here and there, in black and red ink: "Participation in the elections -- No!" And from Kerman, journalist Mohammad Sadiq Taheri told RFE/RL's Persian Service that he suspected less than 50 percent of provincial voters would participate in the election. The total number of votes cast in the election was 28,159,289 (about 67 percent of the electorate), which compared unfavorably to the 83 percent of the 1997 election.
Regarding plans for the future, Khatami indicated during the campaign that he would continue to pursue political reforms. On 9 June he said, "The urgent demand of today and tomorrow is to instill and deepen republicanism, give back the legitimate rights of the people in line with the (Islamic) religion, identify priorities in the economic field, and solve basic problems of the society under a prudent agenda," IRNA reported.
With his renewed mandate and with a parliament dominated by reformists, the president's administration should be able to pursue the policies favored by Khatami. Several members of parliament discussed in separate interviews where to expect changes. Parliamentarian Mohammad Reza Khatami, the president's brother, told Reuters that "creating reform in the judicial system is perhaps one of the most important things that should be done in the next four years." And reformist deputy Rajabali Mazrui told the 3 June "Financial Times" that the legislature would pursue revisions to the press laws.
There also is the demand and desire for improvements in the economic sector. There are factory closures, workers strike after not being paid for months, unemployment is between 16 and 25 percent, and the economy is having trouble absorbing all the young people entering the workplace.
Two days before the election Khatami indicated his awareness of economic problems when he told a gathering of bazaar merchants and union leaders, "Any government that comes to power should create job opportunities for young people." He went on to call for increased investment and investment security. "Iran News" suggested on 6 June that the president select new cabinet members who can more competently deal with economic issues. And the day after the election, Kerman representative Hussein Marashi suggested that Khatami select a new cabinet that would be stronger and could more effectively improve the economic situation.
But presidential Chief of Staff Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi told the 6 June "Business Week" that Khatami would not concentrate on economic reform. He added, "There will be a lot of time for economic reform in the next four years, as in the last four years. But we feel that this sense that Mr. Khatami is only trying to change economics is because they want people to forget Mr. Khatami's political slogans."
There also is a great deal of unhappiness with corruption and nepotism on the part of high-ranking officials and their family members. Iran's aristocratic Thousand Families have given way to a new group of elite families with clerical connections (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 11 December 2000). The resulting corruption, rather than ideology, is at the heart of the divisions within the political establishment, according to "The Guardian" of 8 June. Khatami may not be able to do much to uproot corruption, but Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's 30 April call for a crackdown on this phenomena may strengthen his hand.
In order to facilitate the president's pursuit of reform, according to Tehran parliamentarian Davud Suleimani, the legislature must amend some existing laws and "approve laws that make it possible for the president to exercise his right to oversee [implementation of the constitution]," "Seda-yi Idalat" reported on 5 June. Yet experience shows that this will not be as easy to accomplish in practical terms as it is to discuss in theoretical terms. The Guardians Council and the Supreme Leader, who are constitutionally entitled to do so, have blocked the parliament's efforts to introduce or even discuss some items of legislation.
The Supreme Leader, in a 9 June speech marking the birth anniversary of the Prophet Muhammad and the sixth Shia Imam, Jaffar Sadiq, voiced his support for Khatami. Khamenei also ended his speech with prayers for the success of all the officials, particularly the president, in carrying out their responsibilities. This would indicate that Khatami has the backing of the country's top official.
Khatami also appears to have the public backing -- the mandate -- indicated by his electoral victory. If necessary, he could use the threat of populist support and public protest to counter his political opponents and to pursue the reforms that he supposedly represents. He has failed to do this in the past, but as a lame duck, he now may feel free to act more decisively.
All times are PT (US)
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