Beliefnet
TEHRAN, Iran, Feb. 23--Buoyed by a landslide victory in parliamentary elections, reformists began Tuesday to outline plans for a strikingly different Iran. They say they want free political dissent, an unrestricted press and dramatically more freedom in their private lives.

''We want to have the right of individual choice,'' Mohammadreza Khatami told reporters, according to USA Today reported. ''We should respect people's ideas.''

Khatami, who leads the Islamic Iran Participation Front, tops the winners among 5,700 candidates for the 290-seat Majlis, or parliament.

The reformist coalition has won 141 seats, including 109 by the Participation Front, and appeared poised to have a majority. Reformists seemed certain to take all but one of the seats in Tehran.

Hard-liners Islamic politicians have won 44 seats, independents have won 10 and 65 will be decided in runoff elections.

Before Friday's elections, 85 deputies were regarded as reformers in the Majlis, against about 125 conservatives.

Khatami has backed the sweeping reform program of President Mohammad Khatami, his older brother.

''We want a good stream of information in the media. Measures that restrict the media, we will change,'' he said.

One critical open question is relations with the United States, severed in 1980 in the Islamic revolution that overthrew the U.S.-backed shah. Khatami said parliament could create a ''new atmosphere.'' But like others, he said he first wanted Washington to end economic sanctions against Iran and remove it from a list of countries backing terrorism.

Since the voting, politicians have converged on the home of Abdollah Nouri, a jailed liberal cleric, who is on a four-day furlough. Surrounded by supporters, Nouri said he thought the new parliament would be able to stand up to hard-liners.

Reformists hope their huge momentum will head off a clash with the Guardian Council, which can veto their legislation. They could also collide with Iran's supreme Muslim leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who controls the army, police force, judiciary and broadcast services.

Khatami said one of the most urgent tasks was pushing to free jailed dissidents. This week, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence of one student and a 10-year sentence for another. The sentences were handed down after police and hard-line activists cracked down on students who were demonstrating in July against the banning of a leftist newspaper. At least two students were killed and many were arrested.

But reformists say they dare not question Islamic beliefs. ''People in Iran have voted for an Islamic government,'' Ahmad Bourghani, a new reformist representative, said in an interview. ''Any government has to consider those beliefs, or it will collapse.''

Thus, rules enforcing head coverings for women and those forbidding public flirting between unmarried men and women are likely to remain. However, Khatami and his colleagues say they intend to end the practice of raiding private parties and arresting those who dance to Western music.

Because of the complexity of the electoral process, final results were not expected until the end of this week, electoral officials said.

Iranians turned out in record numbers to cast their votes in the parliamentary poll with around 83 percent of the country's 38.7 million voters taking part. They were the sixth elections for the Majlis since the Islamic republic was founded 21 years ago.

Analysts had predicted that the high turnout would benefit the reformist candidates who back Khatami's efforts to forge a more civil society in Iran, the rule of law and an opening to the West.

Conservative deputies who adhere to a strict interpretation of Islam and its heavy-handed role in government and everyday life currently hold a slight majority in the current Majlis.

Since his election, Khatami's attempts at reform have sometimes been stymied by the Majlis and the conservatives who control important power bases in the judiciary, security services and state-run media.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supports the hardliners.

Despite the apparent win by the reformers, the Washington Post reported Monday that observers in Iran said they did not expect the nation to return the level of social liberalization that existed under the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was toppled by the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Instead,, they predicted a new openness for Iran that would allow democratization designed to improve the nation's economy and keeping the state out of the private lives of Iran's 70 million people.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus