Prospects for a new Reformist Party in Iran: Research Director at European Centre for Advanced Defence & Strategic Studies
Azeem Ibrahim, Research Director at the European Centre for Advanced Defence and Strategic Studies, and Research Scholar at the International Security Program, Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, specially for Trend .
Mir Hossein Moussavi, the reformist candidate in Iran's disputed recent Presidential election, has stated his intention to form a new political party. Sources in the Interior Ministry claim that the Ministry is considering blocking him from creating such a party.
The stakes are high. If he is allowed to create one, it is possible that it will, by the time of the next Presidential election, pose the biggest single electoral challenge to Iran's conservative clerics in the regime's history. That will only happen if three conditions are met.
The first is that more conservative establishment clerics express their own dissent about the election result. The second is that some establishment figures, particularly in the Council of Guardians and the Assembly of Experts, express some public support for the new party. And the third is that next time there is a Presidential Election, the Council of Guardians permit a candidate - probably Moussavi himself - to be a candidate.
Up until now, dissent has come only from those clerics who are longstanding critics of the regime. One -Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri - has issued a fatwa which questions the legitimacy of Ayatollah Khameini. Another has condemned the attacking of protesters as a sin, and another has made a fatwa against cooperating with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government. But all of these are longstanding critics of the direction of the Islamic Revolution. Their criticisms will be easy for conservatives to ignore.
The first sign that this might change came this week. Former two-time President and chairman of the powerful Assembly of Experts President Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani began to openly criticise the line being taken by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini. Khameini had said that discussion about the legitimacy of the election result should stop, as the result had been blessed by God. This week Rafsanjani said that discussion about the legitimacy of the election result should continue. He said that both words in the 'Islamic Republic' were important, and doubts had not yet been satisfied. He quoted Ayatollah Khomeini in ways that seemed to support the opposition's right to demonstrate. And he said that protesters who have been arrested should be released from prison. He supported greater media freedom.
Perhaps most importantly though, he said that these ideas were based on his talks with other senior figures in the clerical establishment.
If Rafsanjani remains a lone voice, his own power may decline. But if those 'other senior figures' now begin to join him and publicly support these sentiments, it is less likely that the government will be able to prevent Moussavi from forming a new party.
If these two conditions are met, then it will be possible for any new political bloc to gain influence, but it does not mean it will gain any real power. For that to happen, the Council of Guardians - the powerful body which chooses which Presidential Candidates can stand for election - will have to allow a candidate from Moussavi's party to stand in the next Presidential Election in 2014.
But a lot could change between now and then.
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