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Election Not the End of Iran's Reform Movement


(Washington, DC--March 10, 2004) The conservative victory in the February Iranian parliamentary election does not mark the end of "the reform movement," according to A. William Samii, RFE/RL's Senior Regional Analyst for Iran. Rather, Samii said, this upcoming period may well serve, as reform movement leaders have themselves announced, as an opportunity to regroup following their loss at the polls.

Samii told a recent RFE/RL audience that, according to the State Election Headquarters on 28 February, 225 candidates received enough votes to win the first round of parliamentary elections and 128 candidates will run in an as-yet unannounced second round of elections to decide the winners of 64 seats. That same day, the Iranian legislature's website (http://mellat.majlis.ir) noted that 154 conservative candidates won seats in the first round, while 40 reformists won their races.

Since most government decisions are made behind "closed doors" and few are transparent, Samii said that the change to a more conservative parliament will not make it easier to understand decision-making in Iran. Samii referred to a prediction by Mohammad Kazem Anbarlui, a member of the editorial board of the conservative newspaper "Resalat," who said that there would be "less political commotion and sensationalism" after the election. Samii agreed, stating that political calm could occur because of fewer public disputes between the parliament and the Guardians Council that reviews the legislature's decisions.

Although many of the policies that will be pursued in the new parliament are unknown, Samii said, both reformists and conservatives agree on the importance of domestic economic issues. He noted that one of the newly-elected leaders of the conservative faction, Ahmad Tavakoli, reported that the new parliament's main focus would be jobs. According to Tavakoli, "we will pay serious attention to investment" in order to resolve the unemployment problem

In the field of Iranian foreign policy, Samii said that relations with the United States, nuclear developments and interference in other countries' affairs will take precedence, predicting that Iranian government officials could possibly meet with their U.S. counterparts in secret, or make contact in the context of "track-two diplomacy." Conversely, members of the newly-elected parliament are giving mixed signals about the possibility of relations with the United States, Samii said, citing Tavakoli: "We do not regard relations with American ideologically as being absolutely necessary, like daily prayer and fasting, or absolutely forbidden like wine."
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