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24 February 2000 Edition

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Reformists sweep Iranian elections

In a landslide victory, Iranians have backed the reforming policies of the country's president, Mohammad Khatami and voted to end the conservative control of the country's power that has been unchallenged since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

On Friday, 18 February, more than 38.7 million Iranians aged 16 and over wenyt to the polls in an election widely seen as a test of support for Khatami, who has faced strong resistance from conservatives to his proposed programme of liberal reforms.

Eighty per cent of the electorate participated in the poll, surpassing the high turnout for Khatami's election as president in 1997. They granted a majority support to the Reformist parties, which under the banner of the Participation Front are surging to an insuperable lead in the capital Tehran and throughout the country.

The new Majlis, or parliament, has 290 seats. Five of these are reserved for non-Muslim candidates who will represent the minority religious groups. The parliament sits for four years and has powers to introduce and pass legislation, and summon and impeach ministers and the president.

The Majlis' powers are checked by the Guardian Council - a 12-man body of clerics and lawyers, most of them from the Conservative coalition - which ensures that the parliament's decisions are in line with Islamic Sharia law and Iran's constitution.

Although the reformers' coalition is considered left-wing and the conservatives right-wing, both are Islamist.

With 240 of the seats declared, reformists coulsd claim 102 seats with the conservatives, called Conservatives of the Coalition of the Line of the Imam and Guide, on 43 and independents and religious minorities holding 45. A further 50 seats will go to a second round of run-off elections in April.

Some 5,700 candidates, including 513 women, stood, with over 800 candidates contesting Tehran's 30 seats. Because ballots are counted by hand, final results for the first round in the capital will not be available for several more days, but preliminary results from the capital, however, showed reformers holding the first 26 places on the Tehran list and expected to take at least 28 of them. The reformers are led by the brother of the state president, Mohammad Reza Khatami, head of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, who was 80,000 votes clear of his nearest challenger. Khatami was followed by two other reformers, Dr Ali Reza Nouri and Jamileh Kadivar.

Nouri is the brother of Abdullah Nouri, President Khatami's former interior minister, who has been in jail since last October for ``anti-Islamic propaganda''. In an apparent sign of their desire for appeasement, the religious conservatives, who control the judiciary, granted Nouri a week's leave from prison to coincide with the elections.

Jamileh Kadivar is married to the reformist culture minister, and is the sister of a popular cleric who is also imprisoned for his opposition to the religious establishment.

The biggest loser is the leader of the conservative coalition and former two-term president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who stood as a candidate in Tehran. Rafsanjani's popularity has been badly affected by the murder of up to 100 political opponents during his administration and his failure to stop violence against the opposition. He was placed 27th on the Tehran list and headed for an embarrassing April run-off to try to win his seat back.

Without a conservative parliament to block him, Khatami should now be able to carry out the promise of the civic society that he made in 1997. A solid pro-reform majority could boost his efforts to create a civil society within Iran's Islamic system.

The main problem he faces could be the institutional weakness of the parliament, which will hamper his efforts to turn the voters' massive mandate into real social and political change. Conservative clerics, who see themselves as the Revolution's protectors, will still control the security forces, public television and radio and the wealthiest businesses.

Religious conservatives, who rally around Ayatollah Khomeini's heir as Guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, frustrate Khatami's efforts to place a greater emphasis on human rights in Iran and to improve relations with the West. The Iranian constitution places the Guide above all elected officials, including the President.

To tackle this situation, Khatami could enhance press freedom to favour the independent media, change the electoral system, and reorganise the judiciary, which has continuously attacked his government.

Basque Country


Basque Political Prisoner Daniel Dergi was on his 58th day into a hunger strike last Tuesday, 22 February. Basque political prisoners started their protest against dispersion and political repression on 1 November 1999, with several prisoners fasting over 50 days. Dergi has been sent back to his cell in spite of his health condition and his relatives and comrades say he is being mistreated by the French authorities. Arguing that his health is good, the authorities have not allowed anyone to visit him in his cell. Dergi has lost 30 kilos and is suffering from cramps and pain. His relatives and lawyers say that he could die at any time.

An Tuesday, 22 February, a car bomb thought to have been detonated by Basque guerillas ETA killed Fernando Buesa, the Socialist party spokesperson in the Basque parliament, and his bodyguard, a member of the regional police force. The attack took place in Vitoria, the Basque capital, near the seat of the Basque regional government. A month ago, an army colonel was killed in a similar bombing in Madrid. A sustained ETA cessation broke down last November when the Spanish government refused to engage constructively in a Basque-led peace initiative which had the support of Herri Batasuna and the Basque Nationalist Party.

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