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Iran: Khatami's Second Term
Country Study > Chapter 4 > Government and Politics > Political Dynamics > Khatami's Second Term


Khatami’s re-election had little impact on the power struggle between reformists and conservatives. The Second of Khordad coalition continued to pursue its “active calm” strategy, working mainly through parliament to promote reform and avoiding confrontation. The conservatives continued their attacks on the press and the reformist politicians, blocking political reform initiatives but supporting many economic reform policies. In the fall of 2001, the judiciary brought charges against reformist members of parliament, issuing summonses for 60 members to appear in court. In response, Khatami issued a statement warning the judiciary that this move violated the constitution, and some reformist leaders called for a referendum on the matter. A constitutional crisis was averted when Khamenei intervened, compelling the judiciary to back down and respect parliamentary immunity.

Throughout 2002, the judiciary continued to bring charges against reformist leaders and closed more reformist newspapers. In July it convicted 30 members of the Iran Freedom Movement, a reformist group that predated the Revolution, on charges of plotting to overthrow the Islamic regime and banned the organization. The reformists’ ongoing failure to achieve their political goals despite their electoral success increased frustration among reformist leaders and their supporters; President Khatami even talked openly about resigning. Reformists favoring a more proactive approach called for confrontation with the conservatives and threatened to break with Khatami and the moderates. Common Iranians, many of whom were beginning to experience the negative consequences of the economic reforms, increasingly expressed disappointment with the reformists’ agenda and declared that they no longer would vote for them.

In the February 2003 local council elections, reformist candidates in Tehran and other major cities were defeated decisively, although most were reelected in small towns and rural areas. A new conservative party, the Islamic Iran Builders Council, portrayed itself as pragmatic and apolitical during the campaign and swept the Tehran council elections, although voter turnout was only 12 percent of the electorate in the city. Elsewhere, voter turnout fell from a national average of 57 percent in 1999 to 29 percent. In general, voter turnout was higher in rural districts than in large cities, reflecting stronger public interest in races that were less politicized and where local councils made decisions on issues that voters deemed important.

Especially in Tehran, the results of local council elections emboldened the conservatives and left the reformists frustrated and divided. In the following months, the Guardians Council vetoed two bills Khatami had proposed, aimed at weakening the Guardians Council powers and strengthening those of the presidency. The Expediency Council sharply increased the Guardians Council’s budget, enabling it to set up a nationwide network of election-monitoring offices. The judiciary arrested more reformist leaders, closed more newspapers, and began to block reformist Internet sites. Security personnel and vigilantes again attacked student protesters. In a rare triumph for the reformists, human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize in October and quickly began to use her high-profile position to promote political and civil rights reforms.

The growing popular disenchantment reflected in the February 2003 local council elections prompted Khatami and the reformists to focus on economic development programs, but the efforts were too late to bear fruit before the 2004 parliamentary elections. A total of 8,144 candidates, most of them affiliated with a reformist party, registered to compete. In early January 2004, the Guardians Council disqualified 44 percent of the registered candidates, including almost every prominent reformist and 80 incumbent members of parliament. Under pressure from Khamenei, the Guardians Council reinstated 1,075 (30 percent) of the candidates it originally had disqualified, although no prominent reformists were among them. Of 210 incumbent deputies in parliament, a total of 75 remained disqualified, including President Khatami’s brother.

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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