Big vote for reform opens further splits
VOTERS IN Iran have overwhelmingly chosen candidates who stood for reform of the present system. Parliamentary elections held last week saw reform candidates win in all the major cities and many smaller towns. There was an 80 percent turnout among the 39 million eligible voters. The results are a further sign of a mood for change in Iran. In 1997 Mohammed Khatami was elected president. He had pledged to bring more freedom within the context of an Islamic system. Students took to the streets last year backing Khatami's reforms and urging faster change, although Khatami then disowned his supporters.
The defeat last week for those who stood for keeping things as they are is very welcome. But the reformers and independents who won are a mixed bunch. Some conservatives stood as reformers to save their own skins. More fundamentally, there is a split inside the Khatami camp. Some of his supporters argue that reform means support for Western free market ideology. They want to clear the way for business "freedom" and for more access to Iran for the multinationals.
They say they will push for privatisation, and for relaxing the rules on foreign investment. Television pictures shown in Britain equated reform with images of an elite skiing in the mountains near the capital, Tehran. But such people are not at all representative of the general mood. The millions who voted for reform are for deep social change-more rights for women, greater freedom of the press, more workers' rights.
"We want to determine our own destinies and to have a society which serves all the people," a woman voter told journalists. This week's vote could open up new splits between those who want to use the pressure from below to make more profits and those who want ordinary people's interests to come first. The hope is that there will be more demonstrations and protests.