Iran reformists regain a foothold as conservatives squabble

While Iran's conservative camp is racked with arguments, once-banned reformist papers have reappeared on news-stands, allowing reformists to launch a debate on whether to participate in next March's election for parliament.

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, right, with his aide Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, a controversial figure who has been the subject of attacks from hardliners in Iran. Behrouz Mehri / AFP Photo
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TEHRAN // Iran's reformists, marginalised after the disputed re-election of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009, appear to be regaining a tentative foothold in the nation's politics while the government's conservative leaders squabble.

Many reformist figures were arrested, and some given hefty jail terms, after the June 2009 presidential election and the crackdown against opposition supporters.

The two main reformist leaders, the former parliament speaker, Mehdi Karroubi, and the ex-prime ministerr, Mir Hossein Mousavi, were put under house arrest after they persisted in claiming that the election was fraudulent and led a protest movement, which led to many deaths.

But a continuing dispute between Mr Ahmadinejad and more hardline conservatives about his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, has provided an opportunity for the reformists to tiptoe back. Mr Mashaie is accused by those conservatives, the Shiite clergy and the Revolutionary Guards of leading "a current of deviation" within the government to undermine the Islamic regime. His critics also allege that Mr Mashaie exerts too much influence on Mr Ahmadinejad, whose son married Mr Mashaie's daughter.

Against the backdrop of the struggle within the conservative camp, the reformist media have managed to strengthen their presence with two new dailies. The once-banned Etemad (Confidence) and Rouzegar (Times) have appeared on news-stands to join other reformist papers. The new papers have allowed the reformists to launch a debate on whether to participate in next March's election for parliament.

Although radical reformists reject the notion of participating in the poll, their more moderate comrades are considering it seriously, particularly some 50 reformist MPs who want to run for re-election.

The former reformist president Mohammad Khatami has tried to find a middle ground for the reformists to return to Iran's political arena. Over the past year, Mr Khatami has distanced himself from Mr Mousavi and Mr Karoubi and refused to call for street protests, while continuing to demand that all political prisoners be released.

He recently called for national reconciliation and reaffirmed reformists' allegiance to the Islamic republic's principles. Mr Khatami also welcomed the recent remarks by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who urged "the establishment of an open, healthy and safe political climate in accordance with the constitution".