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Iran’s Recent Parliament Election Could Provide Chance for Reform

By John Daniszewski

Reformers and conservatives alike struggled Monday to come to grips with the monumental reformist victory in Iran’s election, as the count indicated candidates aligned with President Muhammad Khatami could win as many as 200 of the 290 seats in parliament.

The magnitude of victory, which matched the surprise 70 percent landslide by Khatami in the presidential election of 1997, exceeded the most optimistic forecasts of many reformers prior to Friday’s vote.

To both sides, there could no longer be any doubt that a change had taken place in Iranian politics, and that the alliance of conservative mullahs who have dominated the country since the 1979 Islamic Revolution effectively had been deposed.

“It changes the state of affairs, and that is something to be reckoned with,” said Abdolali Rezai, a political researcher active in the pro-Khatami movement. “It is an affirmation that power resides in the people’s votes.”

For the first time, the reform movement of Khatami, made up largely of nonclerics, leftists and liberals, will have both executive and legislative power. While reformers now have the means to liberalize Iran, there will also be more pressure than ever to deliver improvements in everyday life.

“People who wanted changes ... they will expect action,” said Ahmad Borqani, a leading candidate in the pro-Khatami Islamic Iran Participation Front, who said his legislative priorities were press freedom and reform of the justice system to protect the accused.

Faced with such an unequivocal mandate for reform, the remaining strongholds of conservative power -- the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; the Guardian Council that protects Islamic orthodoxy as it supervises legislation and elections; and the judiciary, including the revolutionary and clerical courts -- also are under pressure to bow to the popular will for greater freedom of speech and democracy.