Fri, 25 Feb 2000

Iran's new era

The victory of Iran's reformers over the conservatives in last week's parliamentary elections has undoubtedly sent a significant message to the international community that the younger Iranian generation would prefer to live a more democratic way of life rather than live under a theocratic rule.

For years since the Islamic revolution in 1979, Iranians have had to live under an Islamic code of behavior which restricts their individual freedom, while those who championed reform were often considered counterrevolutionary and could face capital punishment.

Dissatisfaction at the theocratic rule was reflected in last July's demonstrations by university students, several of whom were killed while hundreds others were arrested. The protests were staged against a new law restricting freedom of the press and closure of a popular reformist newspaper.

Although the Iranian government succeeded in deterring student protests after introducing stricter laws, it nevertheless failed to break the spirit of the Iranian reformers who demanded greater democracy, equality and individual freedom.

This explains why the reformists backing moderate President Mohammad Khatami won 79 percent of the vote compared with 21 percent for the conservatives.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the reformers' victory will see them truly bringing great change to Iran, such as the separation of political power from religious authority, considering that the country's top decision-making body -- the Supreme National Security Council -- is still dominated by conservative clergy.

Besides, the conservatives, who have firm control of the justice system and the army, will not let go easily without a fight.

Hence Khatami and his reformist backers cannot turn away from the hard task of bringing more openness to the Iranian people and to improve ties with the West, particularly the United States, which has imposed trade sanctions on Iran, following the severance of diplomatic ties between Washington and Tehran two decades ago.

Despite all this, some Western countries have hailed the result of Iran's election, saying that the reformists' victory was a positive step toward democracy.

"The election results and the success of the forces of moderate reform will contribute to an improvement in the dialog between Iran and the international community, particularly the European Union," commented Italian foreign minister Lamberto Dini, who plans to visit the Iranian capital next month.

Other European nations, like Britain and Germany, have also expressed interest in improving ties with Iran's incoming new government.

With more industrialized nations boosting relations with a more democratic Iran which harmonizes democracy and Islam, we believe that the Tehran government and its economy will develop well, thereby opening a new era for the Iranian people to improve their political and economic lives.