But still popular
By Mehdi Ardalan
December 6, 2000
It's no secret that Iran's Constitution is riddled with ambiguities.
It's also no secret that often one of the two factions is tempted to solve
these ambiguities to their own political benefit. Against this backdrop,
President Khatami came out with the public announcement that certain articles
of the constitution have been violated but that he does not have enough
authority to stop the violations.
Khatami may have achieved the desired goal he sought during his presidency
but his many supporters have not yet taken off their gloves. Khatami's
first-ever, open complaint about lacking sufficient powers to carry out
his constitutional duties comes six months in advance of presidential elections.
The timing was not lost on his conservative critics who accused him
of attempting to whip up public sympathy prior to the spring presidential
election. Conservatives say Khatami's current powers are sufficient and
if he has admittedly failed in fulfilling his obligations, the problem
lies in himself not the law.
Ignoring these charges, Khatami's supporters rose to his defense demanding
that the administration prepare a bill which would increase the president's
power. One pro reform MP, Ali Amini, went as far as warning that if the
government doesn't present such a bill, the parliament will do so on its
Another MP, Ahmad Purnejati, even hinted at the possibility of amending
the constitution for the purpose of defining (read increasing) presidential
powers. Hollow threats indeed. Political observers are well aware that
the conservative-dominated Guardian Council, Iran's legislative watchdog,
will veto any attempt to ratify such a bill.
Despite the reformists' inability to legally increase Khatami's power,
their threats angered conservatives. "With due respect, Mr. President",
wrote the hard line daily Kayhan, "Your committee overseeing
the implementation of the constitution is itself illegal".
In the face of this backlash, some of Khatami's supporters have shown
signs of retreat, choosing to resign themselves to the current level of
powers envisioned for the president.
Most instances where the constitution has been violated, according to
Khatami, are related to the judiciary's performance, such as the use of
torture, lengthy incarcerations, and illegal arrests. That is why when
the head of judiciary, Ayatollah Hashemi Shahrudi, spoke of creating a
constitutional court to investigate violations of the constitution and
punish the pundits, reformers were quick to condemn Shahrudi's offer.
If the judiciary itself is at fault, there's no guarantee that such
a court would be fair and punish elements within the judiciary. "It
is debatable how much such a court can protect the constitution,"
Khatami said. Nevertheless, Shahrudi's deputy has said the judiciary will
go ahead with its plans to set up a constitutional court, another measure
unlikely to materialize in the face of pro-reform opposition in parliament.
Reformers intend not to allow their opponents take the initiative on this
As far as most Iranians are concerned, the president has affirmed that
he is powerless to carry out reforms. Whatever Khatami's motives may be,
he got that message through. "They don't let Khatami do his job,"
people say. If that was Khatami's intention, he succeeded.