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Iran's Reformist Former President 'Needs To Stand Up' For Program


Mohammad Khatami -- Will he stand up for his program this time?

Mohammad Khatami -- Will he stand up for his program this time?

Iran's former reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, has given his strongest hint yet that he is prepared to run in the presidential election in June. Khatami reportedly told supporters recently that "people have expectations from us and, in view of society's expectations and my own respect for people, naturally I have to fulfill my promises to them and announce my readiness to be present [in the elections]."

(Editor's note: Since this article was posted, Khatami has publicly confirmed his intention to compete for the presidency.)

Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, a former reformist legislator who is currently a visiting scholar at the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies, University of Massachusetts, Boston, is well-known for her outspokenness and human rights advocacy. She tells RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari that she's concerned about Khatami's weakness and also the fairness of the upcoming elections.

RFE/RL: After weeks of speculation, former President Mohammad Khatami has given his strongest signal that he is ready to run for president. What is your reaction?

Fatemeh Haghighatjoo:
I am worried and my main concern is Khatami's weakness, which can be also described as Khatami's Achilles' heel. And that is, I think, his failure in standing by his plans.

For example, in the last years of his presidency, when he introduced the so-called twin bills -- the bill on presidential powers and the election law -- to the parliament, first he stood by it very strongly and said, 'this is my minimum,' but when the Guardians Council rejected those bills, he retreated and even gave up this minimal demand.

So during [Khatami's eight-year presidency from 1997 to 2005] we saw that he backed off and retreated even when it was not needed, damaging reformist goals. So now Khatami has to announce his stance on this and make it clear to what degree he's ready to retreat and how strongly will he stand by his programs and to what degree he will remain committed to his promises.

This is, I think, the most important issue regarding Khatami's [possible candidacy]. Another key issue is how will Khatami mobilize, for Iran's national interests, a wide spectrum of forces from those people who are in favor of structural reforms to those who are willing to keep the current structure.

RFE/RL: What do you think are the main issues Khatami and other candidates should focus on in the June election?

Haghighatjoo:
One is the [fairness of the election] -- what plans the reformist groups that are planning to support Khatami have to make sure that the elections are healthy. I think this is much more important that a psychological war by the other side.

In general, candidates should avoid slogans and generality and they should announce their concrete programs on several issues. [Iran] is currently facing a domestic crisis and an international one. The domestic crisis includes the economic situation, [lack] of political freedoms, and a national rift. And regarding the international crisis, they should state what their plan is for working with the international community and how they want to approach the resumption of ties with the United States, which is a national demand.

RFE/RL: You just mentioned some of the key issues Iran faces -- including economic problems and international isolation -- and you also spoke about "Khatami's Achilles' heel." Why do you think that, despite these complicated issues, Khatami has apparently decided to run again, albeit reluctantly?

Haghighatjoo:
The many deep crises Iran is facing is the reason. Due to the current government's mismanagement, the country is in such a situation that in recent years it has been on the verge of a war, the national rift has widened, and the main concern of Iran's intelligence minister is a velvet revolution, or colored revolution. This results in a closing of society's political atmosphere more than before. Khatami has felt that his presence [in the election] could help lessen the crisis.

RFE/RL: But some reformist or religious-nationalist figures have warned Khatami not to run in the June election, telling him that Iran is in such bad shape that there is nothing he can do to improve things.

Haghighatjoo:
This is a legitimate concern because the past eight years showed that some [state bodies] will not cooperate and it's not good for state forces to challenge each other. That's exactly why I raised the second issue [regarding how Khatami will mobilize forces inside the country]. During his candidacy Khatami has to answer these questions clearly and transparently.

RFE/RL: How popular do you think Khatami is today?

Haghighatjoo:
We can at least say that Khatami is more popular than [President] Mahmud Ahmadinejad. The fact that large segments of different groups have welcomed his [possible] candidacy demonstrates his popularity. This is actually Khatami's strength, but the question is how will he use this strength to counter his weaknesses.

RFE/RL: How do you think the hard-liners would react to a possible Khatami candidacy?

Haghighatjoo:
They're certainly upset and they're definitely making plans to ensure that Ahmadinejad is the winner. Unfortunately, despite the fact that they call themselves "principlists" they're not committed to any principles and they would use any means to [reach their goals]. They will use unlawful means, so the most important issue is the health of the election, different groups must have plans to ensure the election is fair.

RFE/RL. Where do you think Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stands?

Haghighatjoo:
I am not in a position to speak for the leader; he should state his position transparently and clearly. According to Iran's constitution, the leader should remain impartial in regard to [election] candidates, but while [Khamenei] should demonstrate this impartiality in his actions, he should encourage -- more than that, he should monitor -- bodies such as the Guardians Council and the Interior Ministry to ensure that elections are [free and fair].

I hold Ayatollah Khamenei responsible for the health of the elections. If the elections are not held in a free manner, then Khamenei should answer for any fraud similar to that witnessed extensively in past elections.
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