The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Khatami armour against hardliners

Tehran, Nov. 10 (Reuters): Iran’s parliament today approved a draft bill to allow President Mohammad Khatami curb the power of the hardline judiciary, part of a bid to assert his authority over conservative rivals.

Khatami is locked in an apparent collision course with his hardline rivals with legislation that directly challenges their powers which they have used to block successive stabs at reform. “Khatami presented the bill in order to stop constitutional violations,” Vice-President Mohammad Ali Abtahi told parliament.

Elected in 1997 and re-elected in 2001 with landslide wins, Khatami has found his efforts to promote democracy blocked by conservatives who control the judiciary, armed forces and broadcast media.

He has introduced two bills to parliament aimed at limiting the power of the judiciary and curbing the Guardian Council’s veto power over election candidates.

A large majority of deputies in the reformist-dominated parliament today backed the outlines of the bill which would give Khatami the power to recommend the sacking of officials who violate the constitution.

Another bill passed last week limits the conservative Guardian Council’s power to veto election candidates. The bills have to go through another reading in parliament.

But once passed, they, like all legislation, require the approval of the 12-man Guardian Council. Analysts say it is most unlikely the conservatives would agree to limit their own power.

The council has used its power to veto more than 50 bills in the past two years after judging them incompatible with Islamic law and the constitution, thus effectively blocking most of parliament’s reform efforts.

Khatami’s conservative rivals said the constitutional powers bill would give too much authority to the head of executive and accused Khatami of seeking dictatorial powers.

Abtahi rejected the charges. “The only element in the system that is chosen by the people’s direct vote and is supervised by different organisations cannot become a dictator,” he said.

Analysts say the recent arrest of a number of reformists, the death sentence against one and the closure of polling centres shows hardliners are in no mood to compromise over reform. “The recent crackdown on the reformist camp shows they won’t give the bills any chance,” said one who declined to be named.

Khatami’s allies said hardliners were trying to intimidate reformists, especially the President, to withdraw the bills.

“The jailings and heavy sentences against outspoken reformists are to put pressure on Khatami to take back his bills,” said MP Rajabali Mazroui.

The death sentence last week against leading reformist Hashem Aghajari for blasphemy after he questioned the clergy’s right to rule the Islamic Republic has led to an outcry from reformists and protests from students.

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