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Iranian Woman Eyes Presidency

September 19, 2000

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ A little-known woman conservative activist said Tuesday she hopes to be the first woman to run for president in Iran, a goal some say is unconstitutional.

``I’ve made my decision to run in next year’s presidential elections. I’m going to fight in the polls as an independent,″ Farah Khosravi, 41, told The Associated Press.

She spoke on Women’s Day, celebrated on the anniversary of the birth of Fatima, daughter of Islam’s prophet Mohammad.

Nineteen-year-old Maryam Pakshir marked the day with a training flight, making her the nation’s youngest woman pilot, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported Tuesday.

The status of women in Iran has improved since the election of reformist President Mohammad Khatami in 1997. About 58 percent of first-year students at Iranian universities were women in 1999, according to official figures. Khatami appointed a woman as one of his vice presidents and 11 women sit in Iran’s 290-seat parliament.

Women can hold public office in Iran, a role barred to them elsewhere in the region. But they have not reached the highest office in the country.

Although no official date has been set for the next presidential election, it is expected in May 2001.

The Guardian Council, which acts as an upper chamber of parliament and oversees elections, rejected an application from a liberal-minded opposition woman who sought to run for president in 1997, saying it was unconstitutional.

The constitution says the presidency is open to ``rijal″ _ a Farsi term that has so far been interpreted to mean men. Some experts now say that should be interpreted as ``respectable people,″ regardless of gender.

``I’m hoping very much that the council will approve my application in order to pave the way for women to play a greater social and political role in the establishment,″ Khosravi said.

Khosravi is in charge of postings at the Ministry of Sciences, Research and Technology. She has a masters degree in management. She also is secretary-general of the conservative-leaning Iran-e-Farda Society, a little-known group of political activists.

She ran for parliament twice, failing to win a seat each time.

Reformists who support Khatami believe Khosravi’s candidacy would be a publicity stunt by hard-liners.

``Hard-liners are trying to discourage Khatami from running or at least try to undermine his votes through different tactics, including bringing forward a woman candidate,″ said reformist lawmaker Fatemeh Haqiqatjou.

Haqiqatjou said Khosravi would be ``no serious challenge″ to the popular president, who said in July that he planned to run for another four-year term.

Women and young Iranians were a support base for Khatami when he defeated a hard-liner in 1997.

Khatami was elected with more than 70 percent of the vote, obtaining over 20 million votes.

Though they lost the presidency and control of parliament, the hard-liners, led by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, still wield considerable power and have tried to stall Khatami’s reformist movement. Hard-liners control the judiciary, military and broadcast networks.

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