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Iran: Reformers Feel A Sense Of Optimism

Reformers look poised for a big win in Iran's parliamentary elections. Correspondent Charles Recknagel speaks with the deputy director of RFE/RL's Persian Service, Iraj Gorgin, regarding the mood in Iran and the significance of the reformists' gains.

Prague, 21 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Vote counting is continuing in the wake of Iran's first round of parliamentary elections on Friday. But with some 200 of the 290 parliamentary seats now decided, all signs point to a major win for Iran's reformist camp.

The Interior Ministry says that 100 of the seats have gone to candidates backed by reformist groups, while 43 have gone to conservatives. Another 50 seats are in the hands of independents. The trends indicate that the final results -- to be announced later this week -- will see reformists wresting control of the parliament away from conservatives.

Our correspondent asked Iraj Gorgin, deputy director of RFE/RL's Persian Service, to describe the mood in Iran as the results come in.

He said reformers feel a sense of optimism and elation. Iraj Gorgin:

"A sense of hope and optimism prevails. We talked with many from different walks of life, from university professors, intellectuals, to housekeepers, workers, and students in Tehran and other cities, and the mood is very much uplifted. They call the results of the election a victory for the forces of change and democracy. We talked today with some pro-reform journalists. They are very much optimistic and they believe that this is a historic event."

He says that among conservatives the mood so far has largely been one of acceptance.

"They have accepted the defeat in a civilized manner --[conservative parliamentary speaker Ali-Akbar] Nateq-Nouri yesterday announced that yes, our era is ended. [The conservative daily] 'Keyhan' wrote that we accept the people's choice. So, so far, it has been very civilized and [the mood] is not defiance. There is, of course, no doubt that after the final results of the elections are announced there will definitely be some protests from the right-wing and conservatives, but so far it has been very quiet, very civilized."

The outgoing conservative-dominated parliament, which has used its power to consistently block the reform program of moderate Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, is due to hold its last meeting tomorrow.

Our correspondent asked Gorgin what immediate impact a new, reform-led parliament might have on the Iranian political balance. Gorgin said:

"It will be enormous. In the short run, nobody should expect any radical change. I believe that the Supreme Leader Ayatollah [Ali] Khamenei will see to it that as soon as the final result to the election is announced, we expect that he is going to retrace the main principles of the Islamic Revolution and repeat the old slogans, including anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism, and others. But there is no doubt that reformers will push their demands, one by one, in the areas of domestic and foreign policy. So, it will be not like before, definitely, the new parliament may be really an event of historic proportions."

But Gorgin says any changes will take place within the framework of the Islamic Republic's constitution, and this assures that they will be gradual.

"Nobody expects that the conservatives will leave their positions immediately, nobody believes that a radical change will come but everybody expects that change will come little by little ... We have to take into consideration that all these changes will take place within the Islamic Revolution's constitution, which means that the judiciary and many of the country's laws will still be based on Sharia (Islamic law) and the society will not be a secular society. So nobody should expect these types of radical changes for the near future."

Even as parliament looks set to see a reformist majority, other key powers remain in conservative hands or under their strong influence, including the powerful judiciary and the security forces.

That means the significance of this week's vote may lie as much in the message it sends to Iran's conservative establishment as in the changes it brings to the legislature.

The message -- the same one Iranians sent when they overwhelmingly elected President Khatami in May 1997 -- is that a majority of the population wants to move Iran toward a more open society based on rule of law and freedom of expression. And they are becoming increasingly impatient with conservatives who try to obstruct them.