Analysts say Iran's political crisis is reaching a critical point. The deadline
for the Guardian Council to complete its review of candidates it banned from
next month's parliamentary elections is just a few days away, and Iran's president
has appealed for calm amid mass resignation threats in his government. Many observers
believe Iran's struggle between democracy and religious authority will continue
for some time.
The political standoff between Iran's reformists and conservatives was renewed
this week, when the reformist parliament voted to reduce the conservative Guardian
Council's power over elections, and the Council vetoed the measure.
On Tuesday, President Mohammad Khatami vowed that the coming parliamentary election
will be fair, and parliament speaker Mehdi Karoubi assured Iranians that a compromise
is approaching. He said he believes many of the banned candidates will be reinstated.
Both leaders hope to discourage reformist government officials from staging
a mass walkout, or from boycotting the parliamentary election scheduled for
February 20, as they have threatened.
Iran has been struggling with a delicate balance between a representative
government and a more powerful, appointed authority that follows its own interpretation
of Islamic law.
When the Guardian Council disqualified more than 3,000 mostly reformist candidates
who wanted to run for parliament next month, it touched off a new crisis.
But analysts say this dispute is different from other struggles between reformists
and conservatives in Iran. One key difference, they say, is that a U.S.-led coalition
occupies neighboring Iraq and is working to create a democracy there.
Some analysts believe the religious authorities in Iran are looking to reinforce
their position in case changes in Iraq result in a surge of democracy demands
by people throughout the region.
Already in Iran, reformist candidates have won election in increasing numbers
in recent years, and have held the majority in parliament since 2000. Iranian
reformists view the Guardian Council's mass vetoing of liberal candidates as
an attempt to ensure that conservatives regain control of parliament.
Professor of political science at Cairo University Hassan Nafaa says Iran's
conservatives are under new pressure because of events outside the country.
"The regional and international environment has changed a lot," he said. "I
think the skepticism is deepening between the two factions because one will
accuse the other he is playing the game of the Americans and the liberals will
accuse the conservatives of are creating a very dangerous path that could add
much more pressure on Iran, and so on. So what is new is the international
factor, and also the regional factor, because Iraq is now occupied by the Americans
and is perceived as a direct threat."
Iran expert Niveen Mossaad, also of Cairo University, says popular support
for reforms is chipping away at the power of the religious authorities in Iran.
Professor Mossaad says the Guardian Council may be intervening more harshly
in election matters out of fear that if the Iranian people elect reformists
in large numbers, it will be more difficult for the conservative clerics to
overrule the parliament and impose their own policies instead. Professor Mossaad
says the main political change the reformists want is to end the clergy's political
power, and put them in an advisory role instead.
But even if many of the previously banned reformist candidates are allowed
back into the election, analysts say there is another political problem for
Iran's reformists to address. The analysts say this crisis will stir some familiar
resentments among Iranian voters, such as disillusionment with the government's
ability to bring about change, and perhaps a loss of faith in the president's
gradual approach toward instituting reforms.