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Iran's Ex-President Says Without Reforms People Won't Go To Vote

Former president Mohammad Khatami casts his ballot at a polling station in Tehran when Hassan Rouhani's won the presidency, 14Jun2013
Former president Mohammad Khatami casts his ballot at a polling station in Tehran when Hassan Rouhani's won the presidency, 14Jun2013

Iran's former moderate president, Mohammad Khatami has warned that in the absence of reforms, convincing people to go to vote in the next elections will be a tough undertaking.

Khatami, who served as president for eight years (1997-2005), was speaking to the reformist faction of Majles (Iranian parliament) on Wednesday, March 6.

In remarks reflected on a Telegram account attributed to him, Khatami described the current condition of Iran as "despondent" and stressed that the Islamic Republic's governing system "should be reformed and become flexible".

Since stepping down in 2005, the 75-year-old mid-ranking cleric has continued to advocate reforms while remaining critical of Washington's approach toward Tehran.

Considered to be the leader of reformists who oppose the dominant conservative camp, Khatami during his presidency presented limited reform plans, which almost immediately floundered under the pressure of Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his conservative allies.

However, Khatami played a pivotal role in the victory of, Hassan Rouhani, over his conservative challengers in the last two presidential elections in 2013 and 2017.

He also helped pro-reform candidates to win the majority in the last parliamentary election.

These victories, Khatami admitted on Wednesday have not led to no "real reform" in the ruling establishment.

"Today, I am challenged by people who say 'you dragged us to the ballot boxes but show us one single case of moving toward real reform’. Has the judiciary been improved or can a healthy private sector compete in the economic field?" Khatami said, adding, "Have our foreign policy positions that forced us to face impasse been corrected, or healthy approaches [toward the world] were dismissed and their benefits hidden from the public?"

Apparently, Khatami was referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers that led to lifting international sanctions imposed on Iran.

U.S. president Donald Trump decided last May to drop the agreement and reimpose two batches of sanctions on Tehran.

Nevertheless, Khatami praised JCPOA as a "great achievement" that ended U.N. sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

"Today, it is very difficult to call the people to come forward and vote again. Do you think people will listen to you and me again and participate in the next elections," Khatami asked, and immediately responded, "I believe it is unlikely, unless we witness evolution in the coming year."

Khatami seemed to be referring to the next parliamentary elections, which will take place within a year, followed by presidential elections in 2021.

Meanwhile, without naming any group, Khatami accused a number of local "political factions" of attempting to deepen the sense of despondency in society, adding, "The reformists' loss will never lead to their rival's gain; it will only help subversive forces."

Iranian reformists, such as Khatami are sometimes very critical of the way the country is run but they cannot openly call on the Supreme Leader to account for the problems the country faces. At the same time, they defend the core ideology of the Islamic Republic and oppose pro-Western, secular forces.

Lack of freedoms and economic hardship led to widespread protest rallies in December 2017 and January 2018 that engulfed more than 100 cities across the country.

The protests, initially launched in one city against the economic performance of the Rouhani's administration, soon spread and turned into anti-regime demonstrations with unified slogans condemning both reformist and conservative factions dominating Iran.

"Reformists, Principlists (conservatives)! Your day is over," millions of people chanted across the country.

Although several officials, including President Rouhani, called for listening to the voices of disgruntled citizens, thousands were detained and persecuted.

Khatami has also been banned from attending public gatherings in recent years. Mainstream media have been ordered to keep away from any news or images related to the former president.

Khatami has also faced many limitations in his public activities. In October 2017, he was prevented to leave his house to attend a private meeting with his former aides and ministers. Since then, he has virtually been under some sort of house arrest.