Khatami and his Internal Reforms
Iranian blogger, Babak Mehdizadeh, Roozonline: a reformist website.
Mohammad Ali Abtahi used to be President Khatami’s Chief of Staff and then his Parliamentary Deputy. Here is an interview ROOZ Online had with him, which reveals a bit more about the atmosphere and events behind the scenes, even though he exercised caution in many of his responses.Some amazing admissions from a reformist inside the government.
ROOZ: What is your understanding of the recent elections, the accusations, the irregularities, etc?Abtahi: In the first round, the reformers did not have an accurate number of their supporters. The polls in fact turned out to be misleading and decisive for the reformers as they did not think it necessary to join hands with other groups to strengthen themselves. They thought they were strong enough to defeat their rivals. Another feature of the first round was that as the Election Day approached, the other side (non-reformers) organized itself extremely well and, using inappropriate methods, pushed the votes to one specific candidate, even leaving behind other hardline choices such as Larijani and Qalibaf. Good organization work and unity lead to the second round for Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad. In the run off elections, there were fewer irregularities in the run off elections. Hashemi was presented as a representative of power, wealth and the establishment, while Ahmadinejad wan an unknown personality. People obviously preferred anyone will less affiliations with the unhappy state of affairs. Furthermore, Rafsanjani had only week to alter his public image to something more favorable.
Rooz: Mehdi Karoubi protested the violations of the first round and now has even criticized Khatami for not following up on these. Why has Khatami not pursued these violations?Abtahi: Irregularities existed even in the elections that brought Khatami to the presidency, eight years ago. And those that engaged in it were from both sides, including the reformists. However, since these individuals were protected by the most powerful forces, nothing could be done about them. Suits have been filed to pursue the recent violations in the courts, although I doubt much will come out of it.
Rooz: But why is Khatami silent on these?Abtahi: We believe good achievements have been accomplished for the long term. There is no point in focusing on short term issues. There are two views for reformists: go with the flow of the powerful in order to achieve reforms gradually and little-by-little, or confront the other section of the regime. In view of the power structure in Iran, Khatami believes in working slowly to institutionalize the reform process. Obviously much room is left for better results and Khatami himself has criticized this approach and its shortcomings. Furthermore, there is no guarantee what the confrontational approach would have produced.
Rooz: Why was the other approach not tested?Abtahi: Because there is no guarantee for its success.
Rooz: Many say this is precisely why Khatami failed in his drive to enact reforms.Abtahi: We see reforms taking place from within the political system. This is why we also believe that the reform process has not failed. This has been accepted by the people and is in fact irreversible. Even hardliners do not have the goals they had 8 years ago. Reforms have already become institutionalized, even people do not elect their representatives. I think instead of bashing ourselves, we should continue the work that has begun.
Rooz: But is the fact that a reformist president gives way to a hardline one not a sign that the reform movement has failed?Abtahi: I do not agree with the way the elections were held and their results, but this does not mean the reformist idea which pursued personal and political freedoms should be discarded. The elections were a failure for us reformers, but this could be an opportunity for future successes. The institutionalization of reforms and democracy is a path filled with danger anywhere in the world. We must insist on our reformist goals so society moves towards them regardless of who holds the supreme power.
Rooz: Khatami’s performance indicating that he begun the reform movement but did not lead it, must be analyzed so that we can be more successful in future.Abtahi: I agree. Khatami himself agrees that his record must be critiqued.
Rooz: Khatami was not the leader of the opposition movement, but he represented millions. Why did he not use this? Even the parties that supported him did not utilize the massive support.Abtahi: It is clear that the President is not the leader of the opposition. Khatami wanted to enact reforms from within the regime. Let me be clear on one thing. I think the official opposition has been malicious to this nation. It either publicizes that the regime will collapse any moment, or claims that no reforms have any utility for the people so long as the regime exists. The impact of this has been that the regime then used any means to stay in power and become successful. We know that we have had some very serious calamities in this country, but the regime has survived them. While Khatami advocated reforms from within the regime, the foreign opposition has been opposing people’s participation in elections etc. They wished that no reforms would take place from within the regime. In other words, they negate domestic reforms. So you cannot call them reformers, as the only thing they have wanted is the fall of the regime.
Rooz: Regardless of the foreign opposition, why was there no domestic pressure applied from below?Abtahi: Because Khatami is part of the establishment and never intended to fight the ruling powers. READ MORE
Rooz: So can one conclude then that someone who is from the regime cannot implement reforms?Abtahi: We wanted to change the focus from outside to inside. But a group of conservatists who are best for providing the interests of foreigners continue to say that you cannot have internal reforms.
Rooz: Why did Khatami not do anything with his first cabinet that did not have conservatists in it?Abtahi: Khatami was left as the only reform voice in the cabinet. I agree that some of the criticism against this is valid.
Rooz: Who do you think is the ultimate loser in these elections?Abtahi: Certainly not the reform movement. When someone is not elected it does not mean failure. The elections show that a group was capable of organizing itself very well and won. We have a silent majority of some 30 million people who did not vote in the elections. In any case, the victor must also represent and respond to those who did not vote for it. People must feel that efforts are made to fulfill and provide their needs too.
Rooz: What strategy should the reformers undertake?Abtahi: Continue the work of the past and organize institutions with similar views, using the experience of the past eight years and the support of the common goals.
Rooz: How useful is the creation of a pro-democracy and human rights front in Iran?Abtahi: I do not think that the front and other movements that create such groups can cover and respond to all the reformers, while it can certainly help the movement.