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Iran’s Reformist Parliament Opens Session

From Associated Press

Opening Iran’s new reformist-dominated parliament Saturday, President Mohammad Khatami called for an end to factional wrangling in a nation where reformers and hard-liners have been struggling for the power to shape society.

The convening of the 290-seat Majlis came three months after reformist Khatami allies won about three-fourths of the seats in nationwide elections, taking the reins from lawmakers who want no dilution of Iran’s Islam-guided laws. It was the first time that the hard-liners had lost control of parliament since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

“Society is now waiting to be rid of . . . certain political disputes which perhaps are not that unusual and abnormal, given our current political circumstances,” Khatami told the deputies Saturday. “The Majlis, for its part, must act with wisdom and adroitness.”

Many of the laws that have been in place since the revolution are unpopular because they restrict personal freedoms. The reformist victory in parliament raised hopes that such laws will be eased.

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“This is a new era for reforms. Our top priority will be to ease the crackdown on the press,” said Ahmad Borqani, a leading reformist parliament member.

But despite the election, the power struggle is far from over. Since it became apparent that reformers had taken the elections, there has been a strong backlash by the hard-liners, who control the judiciary, the security forces and the state broadcast media.

The Council of Guardians, an election supervisory body controlled by conservatives, delayed endorsing the parliamentary results for three months, alleging fraud. The hard-liners have shut down 17 reformist newspapers in the past month and jailed several reformist leaders.

Besides supervising the elections, the Council of Guardians also has the final say on new legislation--a potential stumbling block for reformist lawmakers.

Still, the convening of parliament on time is an indication that the reformers are not without influence. In the absence of any interference, they will at least be able to make themselves heard, as all parliamentary proceedings must be broadcast live by state media.

Saturday’s inauguration ceremony began with the playing of the national anthem and the reading of verses from Islam’s holy book, the Koran.

In a sign of boldness, two female reformist legislators attended the ceremony dressed in manteaus, or long jackets, their hair covered with scarves, instead of the traditional chador, a floor-length loose sheet worn over the head and body. While both are acceptable under the Islamic dress code, no woman has sat in the Majlis without a chador since the revolution.


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