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To Stand Or Not To Stand?

It's the question Iran's former president, Mohammad Khatami, has apparently been asking himself recently. And he's not the only one asking.

On October 4, Khatami finally announced two preconditions for running as a candidate in next June's presidential election. He said "reaching a compromise with the Iranian nation for their requests" and "receiving assurance for the implementation of his plans" are his two conditions.

In other words, Khatami wants expanded executive powers, knowing full well that the current conditions prevent the president from implementing his reforms. During his two-term presidency from 1997 to 2005, many of Khatami's proposed reforms were blocked due to his restricted powers and opposition from conservatives.

Khatami has already been strongly criticized by some for his "preconditions." One prominent pro-reform journalist, Mashaollah Shamsolvaezin, has accused Khatami of being "silly," adding that the former president knows the conditions in Iran only too well and realizes that it is not possible to hold free elections.

Shamsolvaezin was quoted as saying: "Only three months into his presidency, Mr. Khatami said in a speech that the power of the president is limited and he repeated this song till the end of his term. My question to Mr. Khatami is this: If the power of the presidency is limited, why did you remain in office? Why did you run for a second term? Why did you not increase your knowledge about the constitution and didn't study it prior to your candidacy?"

Shamsolvaezin then asked Khatami, "If the power of the presidency is limited, why do you want to run for a third term?"

It's a pertinent question. If Khatami decides to stand and is reelected, he will likely come up against the same problems he faced during his presidency. This time around it might even be more difficult. During his last term, the Iranian parliament was controlled by reformists. Now most seats belong to conservatives or hardliners.

Others have weighed in to support Khatami. A prominent religious activist Ezatollah Sahabi expressed support for Khatami's preconditions. Yet even Sahabi expressed doubt that the former president would be able to push through his reforms.

The motives for Khatami's "preconditions" are still murky, and analysts are divided as to whether he will stand or not. For now, it's more than possible that Khatami is just testing the waters.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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