Conservatives concede possibility of poll defeat
By Guy Dinmore in Tehran
February 2, 2000
Prominent members of Iran's powerful conservative coalition have started
to speak openly about the prospect of losing their parliamentary majority
in elections this month, but reject predictions of a landslide victory
by reformist allies of President Mohammad Khatami.
Signals that the conservatives would accept defeat gracefully if the
February 18 vote went against them are likely to raise the spirits of reformists,
whose own coalition risks breaking apart over personality and economic
Mohammad Javad Larijani, a member of parliament and influential figure
in the conservative grouping known as the Followers of the Imam and Leaders'
Path, said their coalition could win as few as 90 to 95 seats, less than
a third of the next expanded parliament of 290 seats.
He said the conservative coalition held 126 seats in the current 270-seat
parliament. It can usually count on the support of enough of some 60 "independent"
MPs to control a majority.
Given the undeveloped state of Iran's political parties and a degree
of distrust among voters towards all politicians, independents are expected
to play an important role in the next parliament.
"We may lose here and there. It's political life," Mr Larijani
told the Financial Times. But forecasts by some reformists of an overwhelming
majority were naive, he added.
Movahedi Savoji, a conservative cleric and MP, predicted that the conservatives
would outnumber the reformists but that no group would secure an outright
Asked if the conservatives would accept defeat, he replied: "I
think all groups should respect the people's vote and surrender to what
the people want. It is natural that one party will be defeated and another
Mohammad Reza Khatami, head of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation
Front and brother of the president, said their surveys showed support from
80 per cent of voters but admitted that this would not translate into as
many seats. Aides to the president speak privately of winning more than
two-thirds of the next parliament.
Even if the reformist coalition of 18 factions known as the May 23 Front
does gain a majority, analysts say it is doubtful that the new government
would implement sweeping economic reforms.