President Khatami blames hard-liners for holding up reforms as he is sworn in after standoff
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran’s president lashed out at his conservative rivals as he was sworn in for a second term Wednesday, saying that their resistance to his efforts to bring greater freedoms had inflicted a ”heavy price” on Iran.
President Mohammad Khatami’s inauguration came only after a political standoff that highlighted how unelected hard-liners can often trump proponents of reform under the Islamic republic’s constitution. That situation has frustrated the drive for change throughout Khatami’s first term.
Reformist lawmaker were forced to allow the appointment of two conservative candidates to a powerful oversight body on Tuesday before the nation’s supreme leader would allow Khatami’s swearing in, three days late.
”I’m taking the oath of office to renew my promise to a nation that once again elected me with open eyes despite the problems and the crises created,” Khatami said, pledging to push forward with his reforms.
His brow furrowed and his face serious, the highly popular Khatami implied that hard-liners resisting his efforts to liberalize Iran had generated a series of political crises that had prevented Iran from achieving more during his first four-year term.
”We have paid a heavy price for pursuing this path. Parts of the establishment sustained serious damages. We could have had more achievements and paid less,” he said.
Despite receiving 77 percent of the vote in June 8 elections, Khatami has seen his authority eroded by Iran’s hard-line, unelected establishment, which controls the judiciary, police, military, state-run media and the powerful Guardian Council.
The latest chapter in the power struggle came over two seats on the 12-member Guardian Council, a watchdog body that can veto legislation and has been used often by conservatives to block Khatami’s reforms.
The reformist-dominated parliament had rejected the hard-line judiciary’s nominations for the two seats, leading supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a hard-liner, to delay Khatami’s inauguration until the dispute was settled.
Khamenei, who has a final say on all matters, ordered another legislative vote. And on Tuesday, reformist lawmakers sat in angry silence as their conservative colleagues approved the judiciary’s choices showing how much real power the conservative establishment still wields.
Khatami must now prepare for a continuation of the political tug-of-war with conservatives.
In his speech, Khatami criticized ”old and shallow interpretations” imposed in the name of Islam. He was interrupted by applause and shouts of encouragement several times, especially after pledging to rid the political arena of violence and name-calling.
He said he would ”shun partisanship” and would ”rely on logic and dialogue and shun violence” in pushing popular demand for reform.
Khatami allies said after the swearing-in that conservatives show no sign of making concessions to the widely popular reformist movement.
”He (Khatami) faces increasingly serious challenges from those who cannot adapt themselves to reforms,” said Morteza Haji, a close Khatami ally and current Minister of Cooperatives. But he said Khatami’s new Cabinet ”will definitely be stronger and more organized.”
The parliament’s reformist vice-speaker, Mohsen Armin, warned that conservatives will continue to generate political crises, but said he was optimistic because reformists had learned from the past four years and ”will not get involved in any useless conflicts created by conservatives.”
In a sign of what may be to come, the prominent reformist newspaper Hambastegi, or Solidarity, was shut down Wednesday by the hard-line judiciary, according to Mansour Hosseini, the paper’s editor-in-chief.
Authorities in the past two years have shut some 40 publications, mostly pro-democracy newspapers, and jailed dissidents and liberal journalists.
Hosseini said authorities gave no reason for the closure. However, in Wednesday’s editions, the paper quoted reformist legislator Rasoul Mehrparvar as saying the judiciary’s head, Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, ”has no dedication to Iran.”
Khatami, a moderate cleric, first became president in 1997. He said his priorities would continue to be implementing ”Islamic democracy” and institutionalizing the rule of law. Hard-liners have repeatedly said solving economic problems should be the government’s priority, while trying to maintain political and social restrictions.
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