Iran parliament leader urges reform

A leading Iranian reformist leader has issued a stern warning to the country's rulers to stop blocking reforms.

    President Khatami is the leader of Iran's reformist movement

    Muhammad Reza Khatami, the Islamic

    Iran Participtation Front (IIPF) leader, issued the warning during

    a party

     congress on Thursday. 

    The congress is taking place amid signs that voter frustration could

    deal the embattled reformist camp a serious defeat in upcoming elections.

    "Reformists are trying to prevent the present social movement

    from being transformed into a violent political revolt or into a

    scenario of an overthrow (of the government) from outside the country,"

    he said.

    Reforms

    "Reforms will continue and deepen in a movement that is calm and

    progressive."

    "We are confronted by two visions of the Islamic republic,"

    Muhammad Reza, the brother of the Iranian president, said.

    He was referring to conservative-run courts and legislative

    oversight bodies who favour "power without limits" on one side, and

    "those who believe everything must be done in accordance with the

    law" - the reformists - on the other.

    "The reformist movement always respects the framework of the

    law and non-violence," he asserted.

    Religious leaders

    He also hit out at the Islamic republic's powerful religious leaders

     for turning the burgeoning youth population away from

    their faith and country.

    "A great part of the youth are fleeing religion, in particular

    the social role of religion," the younger brother of the president

    said.

    "I say clearly that when people are fleeing religion and the

    Islamic republic, the reason is a violent and dictatorial

    interpretation of religion."

    The next parliamentary elections are scheduled for 20 February

    ,

    2004.

    "Reformists are trying to prevent the present social movement

    from being transformed into a violent political revolt or into a

    scenario of an overthrow (of the government) from outside the country"

    Muhammad Reza Khatami,
    Iranian reformist leader

    Voter apathy

    Led by the IIPF and rallying around President Muhammad Khatami,

    the reformists have controlled Iran's parliament since 2000, when

    they swept to power on a youth vote and a platform of shaking up the

    way Iran is governed.

    But little of their agenda has made it into law, leading to

    major frustration among young people, students and women who rallied

    behind the movement.

    The cause, reformists complain, is the overwhelming power

    wielded by conservatives in the judiciary, state media, security forces

    and legislative watchdogs.

    Initiatives passed by a parliament are

    stymied by conservatives who see them as trying to undermine the

    foundations of the state.

    An attempt by parliament to give greater powers to the president and

    strip conservative oversight bodies of their right to vet electoral

    candidates, also appears to have

    failed.

    Frustration

    Amid widepsread frustration with the deadlock, voters showed

    their disdain in February 2003, when municipal elections saw an

    all-time low turnout for a country where voter participation

    regularly exceeds three-quarters of the electorate.

    With just a tiny percentage of people bothering to cast their

    ballots, conservatives - relying on a committed hardcore support

    base - won the day.

    Analysts see the very same happening in February. Some radical

    reformers have even called for a boycott of the elections, taking a

    stand against conservatives and forcing a political crisis rather than

    lose the elections.

    But a number of IIPF delegates said the issue of a boycott would

    probably not yet be decided during the congress, as they were not

    yet certain that frustration among their supporters would lead to a

    low turnout.

    One delegate said a low turnout may be expected in cities such

    as Tehran, but that reformists were still optimistic of strong

    support in provincial areas.

    SOURCE: AFP


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