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Iran: The Reformists Retreat
Country Study > Chapter 4 > Government and Politics > Political Dynamics > The Reformists Retreat


When the new parliament convened in May 2000, it elected as its speaker the moderate reformist cleric Mehdi Karrubi. Karrubi quickly unveiled a broad agenda of reforms, starting with revision of the press law passed by the previous parliament. Khamenei then publicly opposed revision of the press law, and the judiciary closed several more newspapers and arrested several journalists on libel charges. Parliament nevertheless began work on a revised press law, leading Khamenei to demand that it cease its efforts. Karrubi reluctantly complied, provoking strong protests from some reformists. In the following months, the judiciary closed more newspapers and arrested more journalists. It pressed libel charges against numerous reformist leaders, including several members of parliament, despite their constitutional immunity from prosecution. These actions demonstrated that the conservatives were determined to stop the reformists and that the judiciary remained a potent weapon in their arsenal.

In blocking liberalization, the conservatives also drew upon the powers of the Guardians Council, which, in addition to vetting political candidates, was empowered to vet laws passed by the parliament. The conservatives’ success in blocking reform and the reformists’ inability to challenge them left the Iranian public—especially young people—increasingly disappointed with Khatami and his allies. In addition, new laws embodying neoliberal economic reforms often had cost jobs in newly privatized industries. They also had reduced the incomes of farmers, who had come to depend on subsidies that the reformists had reduced or rescinded. As a result, the reformist coalition began to fray after the 2000 parliamentary elections. Many student leaders and some older reformists called for a more confrontational approach or even a break with Khatami, while lowincome groups abandoned the reformists en masse (see Government Institutions; Political Parties and Civil Society, this ch.).

The reformist leadership pursued a strategy of “active calm” during this period, pressing firmly for reform but avoiding confrontational actions that might give the conservatives a pretext for cracking down even further. The main political arena now was parliament, which passed legislation on matters such as the status of political crimes, defendants’ rights, prison conditions, press protection, and reform of the intelligence division of the Ministry of Information and Security. However, in this period the Guardians Council vetoed or sharply diluted all majorreform legislation, and the Expediency Council (in full, the Council for the Discernment of Expediency; the organization empowered to mediate disagreements between parliament and the Guardians Council) generally backed these decisions. With the reformist leadership seemingly powerless to advance its program, fissures began to emerge in the Second of Khordad coalition and the main reformist student organization, the Office for Consolidating Unity. Some reformists became increasingly critical of Khatami, Karrubi, and other moderates and openly questioned whether the Islamic regime could be reformed.

Frustrated by his lack of power, Khatami entered the June 2001 presidential election only at the last minute. The Guardians Council disqualified all but 10 of the 814 registered candidates. Khatami’s nine opponents spanned the range of conservative opinion. Khatami again scored a decisive victory, winning 77 percent of the vote, although voter turnout fell to 67 percent from the 83 percent level of the 1997 presidential election.

Data as of 2008

Last Updated: January 2008

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Iran was first published in 1987. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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