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Iranian Factions Begin Maneuvering

May 21, 2000

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ Reformists and hard-liners began maneuvering Sunday for their next big showdown: the powerful speaker’s post in the new parliament, which opens next week.

Hard-liners who lost control of the Majlis, or parliament, for the first time since the 1979 Islamic revolution are determined to push their candidate, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani. He faces stiff opposition by reformist groups that dominate the new legislature.

The reformists, who are allied with President Mohammad Khatami, have thrown their support behind two other contenders _ Mehdi Karrubi, a former speaker who was once a hard-liner, and Mohsen Mirdamadi, a career civil servant who is otherwise viewed as something of a political lightweight.

The speaker holds the No. 3 position in Iran after the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the president. He is a member of the National Security Council and the Constitutional Review Council and can lobby support for bills.

The parliament is expected to be the new arena for the ongoing power struggle between Khamenei and the hard-liners and those who back Khatami’s program of social, political and cultural reforms. The hard-liners, who still wield considerable power, cite Islam to oppose the reforms.

In an apparent backlash to their election defeat, the hard-liners closed down 18 pro-reform newspapers and jailed several reformists.

Ali-Reza Nouri, a legislator-elect of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, told The Associated Press that his party will nominate Mirdamadi for the speaker’s post. The Participation Front is the most powerful reformist party following its victory in the Feb. 18 legislative polls.

Smaller pro-reform groups back Karrubi.

``I’m ready to accept the speaker’s position,″ the Abrar daily newspaper on Sunday quoted Karrubi as saying.

The reformists’ victory in the polls became final after the hard-line Guardian Council endorsed the results Saturday following a delay of more than three months. The hard-liners have less than a quarter of the seats in the 290-member house.

A breakdown of the number of seats controlled by each party will not be known until after the parliament begins its session on May 28. Elections are not contested on party lines and only informal affiliations of candidates are known.

Many of the prominent reformists, including the top three vote getters in the capital, Tehran, have little or no experience in government. Most of them owe their victories to name recognition.

Mohmmad-Reza Khatami is the president’s brother, Jamileh Kadivar is the wife of the culture minister, and Ali-Reza Nouri is the brother of Abdollah Nouri, a former interior minister and top presidential aide who is serving a five-year jail term for religious dissent.

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