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Iran: Ahmadinejad Professes Moderation In Domestic Policies, But Reformists Unconvinced

Mahmud Ahmadinejad after voting on 24 June Iran's President-elect Mahmud Ahmadinejad is pledging moderation and says his government will serve all Iranians. Ahmadinejad easily won the 24 June second-round ballot over former President Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. Still, many in the country are concerned that Ahmadinejad's presidency will witness the rollback of the modest reforms achieved under outgoing reformist President Mohammad Khatami. Some observers also express concern that human rights could deteriorate in Iran.

Prague, 27 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Mahmud Ahmadinejad said on 26 June that he will aim for moderation in his future domestic policies.

"In domestic affairs, moderation will be the policy of the government," Ahmadinejad said. "Extremism does not have a place in the popular government. It will be dealt with. All powers and abilities, all opportunities and all competencies, will be used in the popular government. The focus will be on national interests, national honor, and progress for all."

Ahmadinejad is to assume office in August. A former member of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, he is portrayed as an extremist by his opponents. On 26 June, however, he spoke only of tolerance, friendship, and compassion.

Many observers believe Ahmadinejad's presidency will serve to lessen tensions inside Iran's Islamic establishment. But they also warn that pressure on activists and dissidents could increase and that political and social freedoms could be curtailed.

Ahmadinejad and his allies now control both Iran's parliament and its presidency. The Guardians Council and the judiciary are also under the control of hard-liners. Because of this, Ahmadinejad will enjoy a freer hand than his reformist predecessor, Mohammad Khatami.
On 26 June, Ahmadinejad called criticism a "divine gift" and said the hands of critics should be kissed.

Khatami is the leader of Iran's main reformist party, Mosharekat. He is warning of a "more restrictive climate" under Ahmadinejad and says reformists will have to adopt a more cautious attitude in order to survive.

On 26 June, Ahmadinejad called his future cabinet the "government of 70 million." He said every Iranian will have the right to be involved in the country's political developments and decisions. He also rejected human rights concerns, saying that freedom lies in the spirit of the Islamic Revolution.

Despite such comments, human rights activists believe there is cause for concern.

Mohammad Ali Dadkhah is the spokesperson of the Center of Human Rights Defenders, which was founded by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi. He says Ahmadinejad will have to go far to fulfill his promises of bringing social and economic justice to Iranian society.

"[One] thing that is of great concern is that Mr. Ahmadinejad in his campaign or in his talks after his victory did not unconditionally say to what measure he will act on human rights violations in Iran," Ahmadinejad said. "Therefore, commenting about his [future] actions is mixed with concern and anxiety."

On 26 June, Ahmadinejad called criticism a "divine gift" and said the hands of critics should be kissed. He was asked about the fate of prominent jailed journalist Akbar Ganji, a strong critic of the regime. Ahmadinejad responded by saying that intervening in the affairs of the judiciary would amount to "injustice and dictatorship."

Dadkhah believes it is likely that critics of the establishment will face even greater state resistance under Ahmadinejad's presidency.

"Under [Khatami], we know that many lawyers -- including me -- were jailed," Dadkhah told RFE/RL. "Their crime was to point to the breaches of the law. Currently, several journalists are in prison, with the current state, under a government that claims to protect freedom. [So] I don't know how to predict [the state of freedom] under a government that has not yet spoken about human rights."

Many activists say they will remain committed to fighting for human rights and more freedoms in Iran. Abdollah Momeni, a student leader, told Radio Farda that activism will continue.

"The presence of a person as the head of the government cannot make any difference in the student movement," Momeni said. "Just like before [Khatami's presidency], when the student movement experienced an era of repression, they predict another such era is coming as the result of a government that has radical stances regarding political and social freedoms and also democracy."

On 27 June, outgoing President Khatami -- in a reference to Ahmadinejad -- said social justice cannot be achieved by force.

In Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on 26 June that Ahmadinejad is not a friend of democracy and freedom. He said Ahmadinejad is very supportive of the ayatollahs "who are telling the people of that country how to live their lives."

Rumsfeld predicted that, over time, young people and women in Iran will find Ahmadinejad -- "as well as his masters -- unacceptable."

(Radio Farda correspondent Farin Assemi contributed to this report.)

For RFE/RL's full coverage of Iran's elections, see "Iran Votes 2005"