Iran's reformers seek to forge political party
By Jonathan Lyons
TEHRAN, July 20 (Reuters) - Iran's leading reform movement gathered
on Thursday to lay the foundation for a true political party that its supporters
say could take on the conservative establishment.
The Islamic Iran Participation Front, led by the president's brother
Mohammad Reza Khatami, opened its first congress with an ambitious plan
to forge a disciplined political machine from its loose network of pro-reform
The two-day-long congress is also to lay out policies and programmes
for the coming year and to elect a new leadership.
``We must change ourselves into a political party, a real party. We
must change from a party that has plans and policies to a party of real
action,'' Khatami told hundreds of Front members.
``Our party should be so strong that it can act as a shadow government
to the real government,'' he said.
Khatami lamented the recent closure of 19 pro-reform publications by
the hardline judiciary, acknowledging the move had undercut the reform
``Without the press we are unable to communicate with the people as
we did before. We have to create new channels of information.''
Iran has no real history of Western-style political factions, with the
possible exceptions of the now-disgraced communist Tudeh party and the
official, state parties created by the late shah.
In recent years, newspapers have largely acted as surrogate parties.
Khatami said that the Front was created in 1998 as a broad-based movement
to attract as many followers as possible and to avoid alienating people
traditionally suspicious of party politics.
Organisers were also wary at first of opposition within the clerical
establishment, which argued that Iran's Islamic system of government had
no need of parties and the factional interests they represented.
``Now it is time for political parties to play their role,'' declared
Khatami, the top vote-getter in February's parliamentary elections and
a deputy speaker in the legislature.
The move, he said, was crucial to the drive to create civil institutions
within the Islamic system that could fend off attacks of the conservatives.
His brother, Mohammad Khatami, was elected in a 1997 landslide on just
such a platform.
Candidates endorsed by the Participation Front did well in the parliamentary
polls, leaving the movement with the biggest single bloc within the chamber.
However, the true size of their contingent will only be clear once key
issues are brought to a vote.
In the meantime, conservatives have moved decisively to react to their
loss of the parliament, closing the pro-reform press and tossing a number
of key activists in jail.
On Wednesday, a court called Mohammad Reza Khatami to testify behind
closed doors in a case involving several prominent reformers. Charges are
also pending against him as publisher of the Front's newspaper, caught
up in the newspaper bans.